Josh Rosen wants to play in the Cactus Bowl.
Actually, that might be an understatement. It’s probably more accurate to say the UCLA junior quarterback yearns to play for the Bruins when they take on the Kansas State Wildcats on Tuesday at Chase Field.
“I want to do everything I can to play in this game,” Rosen said Saturday at Cactus Bowl media day. “I love these guys. I would give anything to get another game after this.”
That kind of statement is becoming a bit of a rarity from elite pro prospects like Rosen. Should he choose to declare for the NFL Draft after the Cactus Bowl, he is expected to be a first-round pick. One of the most gifted quarterbacks in college football, he threw for 3,668 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, including five 400-yard games.
But he’s not thinking about the NFL just yet. Unlike Texas safety DeShon Elliott, Texas left tackle Connor Williams and Florida State defensive back Derwin James this year and Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette last year, Rosen wants at least one more college game.
“Maybe I like my team more than some other guys,” Rosen joked.
Still, he understands why some players have skipped bowls.
“I think it is unfair with the Christian McCaffreys and Leonard Fournettes and stuff, even Derwin and some guys because they play pretty physical positions,” Rosen said. “For them, it is not an issue of if they are getting hurt, it’s an issue of how severe. Most of those guys get banged up to some extent every single game. Quarterback is unique. We will take a few licks here and there, but nothing like the beatings those guys take.”
If he played a different position, he might consider sitting out the Cactus Bowl.
“A lot of people bash them, but you have to realize some of these guys have families,” Rosen said. “Some of these guys have kids. Some of these guys really have to support the people around them. Some of them have maybe been put in unfortunate circumstances where they can’t stay in school. They might want to, and people in the media may not give them that shot that there is a part of them that may want to be in college and play in this bowl game, but if they feel they have to lock in their future earnings to take care of their families then I think people should really look into their story.”
He thinks it is unfair to label those players as selfish.
“I am in a fortunate circumstance where I play a not as physical position. Every single situation is unique. I don’t think you can lump them all together or call it a trend that people are starting to miss bowl games. I think players are just starting to realize they have a lot of power and they don’t need to be exploited when it’s to their detriment.”
What makes Rosen’s passion to continue playing with UCLA so unique is that he doesn’t know if he will be medically cleared to do so. Rosen has twice suffered concussions this season, and Bruins interim coach Jedd Fisch says his playing status will be a game-time decision.
If he can’t go, backup Devon Modster will lead the offense. Modster, a former four-star recruit, completed 30 of 45 passes for 376 yards and two touchdowns while filling in for Rosen in four games this season.
“We are practicing in a manner that both our guys are getting reps with the ones,” Fisch said. “Josh and Devon are both in there. Josh has practiced every day this week and so has Devon. Whichever guy goes, we will be ready.”
But Rosen is the preferred option, and his preference is to play.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett