- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Asked to provide some words that would describe his play, several came to mind for West Virginia safety Karl Joseph.
Physical. Fearless. Passionate.
All three words apply, but it is the one in the middle that stood out most. Joseph’s fearless nature came to the forefront as a freshman. He is 5-foot-11, 197 pounds but Joseph often can be found sticking his head in among the big boys in the trenches or flashing across the line of scrimmage to bury a running back or receiver for a loss. He’ll take on 300-pound linemen without thinking twice and wins those battles more often than he should.
While the word “fearless” describes his play, the word “passionate” describes the driving force behind it.
“When people see me play, they see I play with a purpose,” Joseph said. “It means something to me.”
Joseph’s passion for the game has made him one of the Big 12’s hardest hitters since his freshman season in 2012 and has contributed to his growth into an all-Big 12 first-teamer as a junior.
“I’m very passionate about this game, I love playing,” Joseph said. “I’ve always been passionate about it, I think that’s just something some people have.”
That passion has driven him to start the first 38 games of his Mountaineers career as he heads into his senior year with a combination of experience and durability that is difficult to match. Joseph enters his final season in Morgantown, West Virginia with 264 tackles (194 solo stops), 14.5 tackles for loss, 15 passes defensed, 8 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries and 4 interceptions.
“Karl’s a playmaker,” coach Dana Holgorsen said.
But he doesn’t just make plays. No one on WVU’s defense sets a physical tone the way Joseph can.
“He’s so physical,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “He’s as physical a player, at any position, as anyone in the country.”
There was a time it looked like Gibson might not have Joseph at his disposal in 2015. The Orlando, Florida native considered entering the 2015 NFL draft before deciding to return to WVU for one more year.
“The best choice was to come back and finish, graduate, improve on some things and help this team go to a bowl game and win a championship,” said Joseph, who could have been drafted as early as Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) if he had declared early.
Instead he will lead a veteran Mountaineers defense that features 15 players with starting experience.
“When he made a decision to come back for his senior season, obviously it helped our team,” Gibson said. “I think it’s going to help him as well.”
Joseph’s size always will be a question as NFL scouts try to project his professional career. But further development as a complete safety could help Joseph’s draft stock. If he can prove to be a complete safety who excels in coverage, on the blitz and against the run game, he would be an ideal prospect to play safety at the next level despite questions about his size.
Yet more than anything, Joseph returned to WVU to finish what he started. He fell in love with football as a seventh grader because of the team aspect and camaraderie, which made it much easier to return and finish his career with K.J. Dillon, Kyle Rose, Jared Barber and the rest of the guys who took their lumps alongside him in 2012.
“Football is not like any other sport, you have to rely on the guy next to you,” Joseph said. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link, that’s what really drew me to it. You have to have love for the guy next to you to be great. And I think that’s what we have this year.”