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Leg injury can't break Esperanza's Osborn
Gary Bowers rewinds the tape.
Sitting in his office last August, the Esperanza football coach searches for the sequence that shows Bronson Osborn breaking his leg.
“Ah,” he says. “Here.”
In one of the team’s first practices for the 2014 season, Esperanza’s linemen are going through Oklahoma drills. Two linemen line up 3 yards apart. When a whistle is blown, they engage, attempting to push the other backward. It is a test of strength and aggression used at all levels of football.
Osborn – a mountain of a lineman, even on tape – and his first opponent lock arms and match forces. It’s a stalemate.
He stays in the drill. His second opponent attempts to turn him sideways. Osborn plants his right foot. His ankle rolls.
Bowers pauses the tape.
“Right there,” he says. “Just an ordinary drill. Looks like nothing more than an ankle sprain, right?”
Osborn falls, then gets up. He can’t put any weight on his right leg. Two offensive linemen help carry him off the field.
Osborn required a steel plate and six screws to repair his tibia. A wire also runs up his fibula.
Nine months after breaking his leg, Osborn stands as one of the best throwers in Orange County track and field.
Osborn, a sophomore, is the second son of a former CIF champion thrower at Rancho Alamitos High.
Osborn began throwing shot put and discus in junior high because Pop Warner football didn’t have a weight division for eighth graders his size. Osborn often trained with Steve Bolton, a south Orange County shot put and discus guru who’d coached his father years ago.
Osborn liked that throwing rewarded those who worked hard. Weekly progress was measured in inches and feet, he said.
Though lacking the technique and finesse of seasoned throwers, Osborn’s size became his greatest advantage. He learned the basics from his father, Tim, and Bolton. Technique eventually came, with more practice.
By the fall of his freshman year at Esperanza, Osborn stood larger than most upperclassmen, and he went out for the school’s football team.
Bowers said Bill Pendleton, an assistant now but previously the school’s longtime head football coach, compared Osborn favorably to former Esperanza standout Travis Kirschke, a four-year starter at UCLA and a Super Bowl-winning lineman with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Pendleton believed Bronson was stronger than Travis was when they came in,” said Bowers, who took over Esperanza’s football program in 2013. “And he also didn’t know if Kirschke could’ve started on varsity as a freshman like Bronson did.”
Osborn played half the 2013 season on the freshman team, but when injuries besieged Esperanza’s offensive line, Bowers promoted Osborn to varsity, where he started the season’s final five games.
“I figured this year I’d start where I left off,” Osborn said about expectations before his injury changed his course.
Pendleton is also Esperanza’s longtime throws coach and the architect of one of Orange County’s finest programs.
He has seen it all during his tenure – CIF, state and national throws champions. But in Osborn, he saw something special.
Osborn came in last spring weighing more than most freshmen, Pendleton said. And by spending his junior high years under Bolton’s tutelage, Osborn came out for the track and field team more qualified than any newcomer Pendleton can remember.
Osborn’s practices tripled, quadrupled in repetitions – Pendleton saying improvement comes from “not only repetitions, but correct repetitions.”
The coach’s tempered expectations fell early, as Osborn’s distance increased the better coordinated he became.
Five feet, Pendleton said, is “good” improvement for a thrower. Osborn’s throws last year increased by 10 feet.
“When you start off that good, and you’re so close to reaching your natural talent, your potential,” Pendleton said, “making progress is harder. ... It’s the little things that make a big difference at that level.”
Osborn started lifting regularly, gaining as much strength in his upper body as he had in his hips and legs. Osborn went from bench-pressing 200 pounds to bench-pressing 250, 275 pounds. He tacked more feet on to his throws.
Osborn took fourth in the shot put and second in the discus at the CIF-SS Division 3 finals.
At the Masters Meet last May, he threw the shot put 55 feet, 5 inches, placing him 10th among all throwers and the highest freshman on the board.
“It’s about technique, working hard,” said Osborn, who received first-team All-Orange County laurels last spring. “But it’s more about being consistent with your throws.”
Osborn stayed off his leg for “quite a bit of time” after his surgery last August, but he found ways to practice throwing, including practices when he threw while sitting on a chair. He continued lifting weights, targeting his upper body. Osborn’s max bench press touched 375 pounds.
Five months after surgery, Osborn walked without crutches for the first time. He had to “relearn” how to walk.
“I lost my range of motion,” he said. “My legs were weak, and they’re still weak. But I’m walking fairly normal now.”
Osborn can no longer land on his toe after his release. He instead collapses on his foot, costing him power. His toes don’t yet have the strength to hold his 260-pound body, but Pendleton said once he regains the strength in his toes, his length will increase.
Even now, he’s the state leader for sophomores in both the shot put (60-81/2) and discus (176-6).
“He’s up there in the half one percent of throwers in the state,” Pendleton said.
Osborn recently cut off his hair, his “reward” for reaching a goal.
Last year, after setting a personal best in the discus at 173 feet, Osborn told his uncle he wouldn’t cut his hair until he threw 175 feet. His hair became unruly, an organized chaos. A “long mop,” Bowers called it.
At last month’s Mt. SAC Invitational, Osborn threw the discus 175 feet.
“I liked the look,” Bowers joked. “He had a football player’s pizzazz.”
Osborn will have the plate and wire removed from his leg during the summer, and he’s bullish on returning to the football field in the fall. Bowers and Pendleton have reservations.
Pendleton doesn’t want Osborn to come back at anything less than 100percent, and Bowers fears Osborn will feel as though he must make up for lost time. If Osborn does return for his junior year, Bowers said, he likely won’t see game action until October.
But that’s months from now. Osborn won the shot put and discus Friday at the Crestview League Finals. There are also CIF-SS and CIF State throwing championships to go after in the coming weeks, and Osborn’s leg feels just fine.
“He’s a prodigy,” Pendleton said. “I knew he was going to be good, but I didn’t think he’d be this good this early.”
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