All Joe Ostman needed was an opportunity.
Hailing from the hamlet of Mackinaw City (population: 806) at the tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula, few college scouts came through the area. As a 225-pound defensive end, he received only one scholarship offer out of high school.
But the son of a baker grabbed that single chance, turned it into a dominating college career for Central Michigan (8-4) and has NFL scouts buzzing about his professional future.
The 6-3, 250-pound senior has tormented the programs that overlooked him all season, leading the country with 1.2 sacks per game entering the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Wyoming (7-5) at 2 p.m. Friday at Albertsons Stadium.
His 12 sacks, third in the country, have turned the heads of national outlets and NFL front offices. He earned second-team All-American honors from Pro Football Focus, an invite to the East-West Shrine Game and midround speculation in the upcoming NFL Draft.
“It’s definitely exciting, and almost surprising and humbling, because it’s something that I’ve been working for my whole life,” Ostman said.
No other Division I, Division II, Division III or NAIA program extended an offer to the three-time state wrestling champion. But Ostman said that only motivated him, and he remade himself into one of the country’s most disruptive pass-rushing forces for the Chippewas.
“He’s the first guy in the weight room and the last guy to leave,” Central Michigan coach John Bonamego said. “He trains like a madman and he competes. He only has one speed, and that’s full speed, in everything he does.
“He’s just a very special, rare individual.”
That speed remains Ostman’s top weapon. He’s a blur coming off the edge, forcing tackles back on their heels in the blink of an eye. He’s lived in opposing backfields all year, amassing 18.5 tackles for loss.
His small frame has some scouts saying he’ll need to move to outside linebacker as a pro. But his production speaks for itself, and Bonamego, who coached for 16 years in the NFL, knows that all he needs is another opportunity at the next level.
“I think he’s going to have a really good shot because he’s so smart and he’s such a hard worker,” Bonamego said. “When he gets into a camp, he’s going to be a really hard guy to get rid of. I don’t know that he’s an end. He might be a Sam linebacker or could be a fullback.
“I think Joey Ostman can be anything he wants to be, or he’ll try to be anything anyone else asks him to be.”
As humbled as he remains by the NFL attention, Ostman has put it aside this week as he focuses on his next opportunity: Bringing down Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, who entered the season as one of the top NFL Draft prospects in the country.
Allen hasn’t played since injuring his right throwing shoulder against Air Force on Nov. 11. His status for Friday’s Potato Bowl remains uncertain, but Ostman makes it clear that he wants a shot at the best.
“He’s going to present a great challenge for us,” Ostman said, “but we’re looking forward to it.”
CENTRAL MICHIGAN EXTENDS COACH
The Chippewas announced a new five-year deal for Bonamego after practice Wednesday. Terms of the deal were not immediately available.
Bonamego has led Central Michigan to a 21-17 record and three bowl appearances in three seasons. The new deal will keep the Central Michigan alum at the school through 2022.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Who: Wyoming (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (8-4)
When: 2 p.m. Friday
Where: Albertsons Stadium
TV: ESPN (Roy Philpott, Tom Ramsey, Alex Corddry)
Vegas: Wyoming by 3
Tickets: $20 to $75 at FamousIdahoPotatoBowl.com