Defensive tackle Nate Bonsu has endured two coaching changes and several injuries in his career at Colorado. He's suffered through losing streaks and done his best to stop Heisman Trophy candidates and some of the most explosive offenses in the history of college football.
None of that compares, in terms of degree of difficulty, to trying to learn Arabic.
"It's probably the hardest thing I've done in college so far, trying to learn that language cause it's one of the hardest languages to learn," Bonsu said as he walked from the CU practice fields to the locker room Wednesday morning.
Bonsu was named one of 170 semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy on Wednesday. The trophy is awarded each year to the best scholar athlete in college football by the National Football Foundation.
Only one nominee is allowed per school and that individual must be a senior or graduate level student, a starter or significant contributor who carries at least a 3.2 grade point average on a 4.0 scale and has demonstrated leadership and good citizenship.
Bonsu has produced a 3.38 gpa through his junior year while pursuing a double major in International Affairs and Political Science. He also is working toward a Entrepreneurship Certificate from the Leeds School of Business.
He not only has loads of film study in his role as a starter on the defensive line as he prepares to face the No. 2 Oregon Ducks on Saturday, he is balancing the demands of a class schedule this fall that includes Arabic I, Intro to Middle East History, Writing a Venture Plan, Principles of Business for Entrepreneurs and Gender/Race/Class Global Studies.
It's not exactly the basket weaving stereotype so many assume with athletes.
Bonsu, who was originally recruited from Allen, Texas, to CU by former coach Dan Hawkins, also loves to cook and plans to attend culinary school at some point in the future, probably after law school or maybe at the same time. He's not sure what he wants to do when his football career is over, but he wants to have a lot of options.
Maybe he will open a restaurant if he decides against being an attorney. He said he specializes in cooking southern delicacies and soul food. Bonsu said he taught himself to cook growing up because his parents worked so much and he and his two older brothers were often at home alone. He also took culinary classes in high school and his mother showed him a thing or two.
"I don't come from too much," Bonsu said. "Obviously my parents had to work real hard for everything. I know that education can get you somewhere. That's the biggest thing. I'm just trying to learn as much as I can, take advantage of my opportunities I've had in college so far and just make the most of them."
Bonsu comes from a blue-collar family, and one that epitomizes the American Dream. His parents immigrated to the United State from Ghana three decades ago. His mother has been a therapist's aid at a nursing home for 27 years and his father has driven a taxi since arriving from West Africa.
"My parents work real hard," Bonsu said. "I don't want to have to work as hard as they do at their age."
Bonsu is well on his way to his best season. He has played in all three of the Buffs' games and a total of 160 snaps. He has made nine tackles with one sack and a quarterback hurry. Defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat said Bonsu's intelligence shows up in the film room and on the field and has allowed him to absorb and understand his third defensive system in five years fairly easily.
"There is no question about it," Jeffcoat said. "He's definitely a guy who understands and he can take things to the field. Once he's got a grasp of it, he can put it on the field and that's a positive."
Bonsu said he is honored that CU nominated him for the Campbell Trophy. The NFF will name as many as 16 finalists for the award on Oct. 31. Those finalists will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship and will be honored at the Dec. 10 NFF awards dinner. Nate Solder was Colorado's most recent finalist for the Campbell Trophy.
Bonsu, who missed a season earlier in his career after knee surgery, said he's happy to be healthy and contributing to the Buffs' 2-1 start.
"I feel like we're going to have a good year," Bonsu said. "So I'm in a good place."