The Times West Virginian

March 28, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Hard-hitting Karl Joseph eager to lead

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — His first tackle came in his first game as a West Virginia University Mountaineer, a rivalry game against Marshall.

Now, being a freshman out of Orlando, Fla., back there in 2012, WVU-Marshall may not have seemed like Florida-Florida State to Karl Joseph, but you could not tell it from the way he debuted.

The Thundering Herd’s quarterback Rakeem Cato had just completed a pass to Travon Van and he was trying to get to the first-down marker when he ran into not just Joseph but linebacker Ishmael Banks.

It was the shot heard ’round the world, Joseph hitting him so hard that one tackle into his career there wasn’t a soul who didn’t believe West Virginia had something special on its hands.

Since then he had proved it over and over starting every game of his career and earning, with the sheer reckless abandon with which he plays, a nickname that only he could live up to – “Crazy 8.”

Indeed, 8 is the number on his jersey and “Crazy,” well that is more an image than a slice of reality.

See, Karl Joseph may look as if he’s playing out of control as he punishes running backs and receivers, but that has never been the case.

You ask him how, with a reputation of being a hard-hitter, he does it and keeps it up and you get a surprising answer.

“It’s more about being prepared,” he said, taking some time out from preparing for next season during spring practice. “I work hard watching film and stuff like that. I try to be coachable, allow the coaches to tell me what I’m doing wrong. As long as I feel I’m prepared, I’ll be fine.”

This is not something he has learned as he went along the college trail.

Instead, it was something he brought to WVU with him from Edgewater High in Orlando where he was a two-time Orlando Sentinel Defensive Player of the Year.

As proof of that, we offer an analysis Terence Garvin gave of Joseph in the midst of his freshman season.

“What he does is stuff juniors and seniors will do,” Garvin said. “He can read keys. He knows now to study film. He just really knows how to play football like an older person with experience. It’s impressive.”

This wasn’t just some teammate he was impressing as a freshman. This was a senior who had moved from safety to linebacker to make room for Joseph and a player who would go on to play for the Steelers in the NFL.

So advanced is Joseph, so respected, that this year he was named a team captain for spring drills even though he is just a junior.

“I’m a lot more mature. I accept the role of being a leader,” he said. “I know when it’s time to be serious and when it’s time to have fun in the locker room. I’ve been here a couple of years. I know what it takes to win now.”

And, again, it comes from the maturity and the approach, the hard work off the field and on it … and we’re not just talking games.

Joseph’s approach to football is full speed ahead, as running back Shawne Alston learned, again back in Joseph’s early days.

It was spring practice, and Alston had taken a handoff and broken through a small hole before running into a pile off offensive and defensive players, one of whom was Joseph.

“I came to a stop,” Alston said.

Joseph didn’t come to a stop.

“Karl kept going. He blew me up a little bit.”

The lesson?

“After that I started running angry all the time,” Alston said.

The odd thing about the hardest of Joseph’s hits is that he doesn’t really feel them.

“Usually, I don’t feel it if I have the proper technique,” he said.

  In fact, sometimes he doesn’t even know how good a play it is.

  “Sometimes I won’t know how hard it is or how good a play it is until I watch the film. I’ll be surprised myself,” he admitted.

And, he says, seldom after leveling someone do they do any trash talking to him.

“I’m usually the one doing most of the talking,” he said, with a smile on his face.

This year, with the return to the 3-3-5 that WVU used to run, Joseph moves from free safety to a position they call Bandit.

“It’s not much of a difference. I’m just on the shorter side of the field now,” Joseph said.

Not a bad idea as that even confines ball carriers and receivers to having less space to avoid Joseph’s hard hits.

To date the change in defenses seems to be making WVU more effective.

“The new defense is very simple. Guys know their keys and where they are supposed to be at on every play. It is going to allow us to play faster,” he said.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.