When Justin Osborne left Auburn and entered the transfer portal in early August, it was because he wanted to be closer to home. With the threat of COVID-19, and his father raising Justin’s 16-year-old sister on his own, he didn’t like the idea of being a 10.5-hour car ride away from Dallas.
What the new SMU offensive lineman didn’t know when he made the decision to transfer was just how seriously COVID-19 would impact his family, just days after returning home.
His father, Bob Osborne, a truck driver, contracted the disease. Justin would take care of his father — them both wearing masks. But it got to the point where Bob’s breathing was so heavily impacted that he was hospitalized about 10 days ago.
“I was praying and hoping that he could pull through it and get better soon,” Justin said. “… Me and him have a real close relationship, and I’m always going to be there for him just like he’s always going to be there for me.
“If he needed something, I’m right there with it.”
Bob was able to recover from the virus, and just returned to driving his 18-wheeler on Monday, the same day Justin started classes at SMU. It’s been a whirlwind month for the Marcus High School graduate. He committed just a week ago after he had his recruiting Zoom call with SMU coaches, and now he’s enrolled as a student and is hoping to receive a waiver to play immediately.
Justin was a very highly-recruited OL coming out of high school. He went to Auburn, but had offers Baylor, Michigan, Arizona and many other Power-5 schools. He redshirted for Auburn last season, but hopes to have an immediate impact on SMU this season. He hasn’t yet had intake COVID-19 testing or joined the football team in practicing, but anticipates doing so by end of the week.
“It’s nothing that I haven’t done before,” Justin said of all the fast-paced life changes. “It was kind of difficult at first because I was a little nervous, but then once the offers started rolling in, I started feeling a little more comfortable.”
Justin understands the risks, though, associated with playing a football season in 2020. He’s lived through a nightmare scenario, and said it did change his perspective on playing this year — especially, he noted, with the reported increased risks in athletes for the heart condition myocarditis.
“It’s a pretty scary thing,” Justin said. But, he said, playing football this year “should be based on their own decision because I feel like if you’re a collegiate athlete, you’re grown enough to make your own decisions.”
Justin is less than two weeks removed from seeing his father go up to a hospital room. He and his siblings weren’t allowed upstairs. Bob said it crossed his mind that once he went upstairs, he might not come down. He might not see his children face-to-face again.
The kids had already lost their mother to breast cancer in 2012. They were just children at the time.
“You have no control,” Bob said of going into the hospital. “You have no control on what’s going to happen. I knew that I had to go to the hospital, and whatever took place in that hospital, just was going to happen, no matter how I felt about it. You just don’t have any control.
“You just hope that what you taught your kids, that they should step up and take care of business. And that’s exactly what [Justin] did.”
Thankfully, Bob recovered and spent only a day hospitalized. But there was a lot of physical pain and fear he dealt with. Bob described the virus as “taking oxygen from my body.” They pumped his body with oxygen at the hospital, and provided him medication. He was able to breathe more easily on his own, and sent him home to recover and monitor symptoms.
In the mean time, Justin took care of the house. He made sure his sister would be ready for school to start. He made sure his father had food and water and whatever else he needed.
The entire reason Justin came back was validated within days of him doing so. And amid all of this uncertainty, he worked to find the right school for him to attend, the right football team to join.
“He was liked down at Auburn,” Bob said. “It was a big decision to make, I’ll just say it that way. Of course I want to see him at the house or see him closer to home, or that kind of thing. When it came down to making the decision, I didn’t have SMU in his sights. … But when it came all around to talking to the coaching staff with SMU, it just seemed like a pretty good fit for him.
“The more that developed, the more we realized, this is a good fit.”
Bob noted “it couldn’t have been better timing” for Justin to come back. And even now, with Bob back healthy, Justin still has a role at home. Bob’s job requires him to work from noon to 1 a.m. daily, Justin said. Justin feels his role now is to be the older brother that’s there for his younger sister.
But his role is also with the SMU football team. He wants to add to the offensive line this year, and get back to playing games after not doing that in 2019. Justin said he wanted to play for a winning program, and SMU showed it could do that last season. In large part, SMU did that by enlisting many like him — transfers from larger programs that wanted to come home.
And for Justin, it feels right to be at home, to play at home, and to have people at home that he knows he might have to be there for at any time.
“Just being closer to home, just makes me feel more comfortable,” Justin said. “And it makes my family feel more comfortable, because we stick together through everything.”
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