By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The highlight reel on Karl Joseph begins with a quarterback retreating to pass but never getting to his full drop because Edgewater High linebacker Karl Joseph gets there before he does, driving this unsuspecting quarterback to the ground, the ball spinning loose with Joseph scrambling to get on top of it.
There is more of this to come on the reel. Receivers are separated from their senses. Ball carriers knocked silly.
He flies to the ball, and when he gets there he doesn’t miss.
But that’s high school.
Now Joseph is in college, West Virginia University, to be precise, a precocious freshman who came to town and enrolled early, in January, so he could go through spring drills and acquaint himself with his new teammates and coaches.
There was nothing bashful about him.
He came to play.
“I knew I was going to be able to compete. I’m never scared of competition,” he said.
West Virginia has become known in just one year under Dana Holgorsen as a team that will play freshmen if they are ready. A year ago Dustin Garrison came in and showed himself to be ready, setting a freshman record with 291 rushing yards against Bowling Green in his first start.
“I think it’s like that in every program,” Joseph said during a break in spring practice. “You have to prove yourself to the coaching staff. You can’t be sometimes good, sometimes not so good. You have to be out there and make plays. I still got some things to work on this spring, and I have summer and fall camp.”
Make no doubt he has made a huge impact on the coaching staff, already listed second string behind red-shirt junior Darwin Cook at safety.
“Karl Joseph is probably the one guy out of all the new guys coming in that has got something to him,” Holgorsen answered when asked to name the top newcomer in camp. “You can pencil him in to play a good bit.”
There are any number of physical reasons for this, his speed and his hitting ability, but it is more than that.
“He is mature. He is not scared. He is mature, and he is physical. Sometimes it takes guys a couple of years, before they are physically ready to play or mentally ready to play — whatever it is. It was an easy adjustment for him.
“I am not saying he doesn’t make mistakes or miss tackles or any of that, he does, but from a demeanor standpoint, the effort and the maturity and the physical capabilities of being able to handle it, he is the guy that is going to be fine.”
This high praise but, more important, it shows that the head coach has come to grasp what this young player is rather quickly.
And what is it that makes Joseph what he is?
"Football is my passion. I love to play and it drives me to get better. You've got to be driven by it," he said. “It isn’t unusual if you really want to get better.”
It manifests itself in many ways, but this may be the best example for it is so unusual.
“I like watching film by myself sometimes and correct my mistakes. I sometimes know what I did wrong before coach even tells me,” he said.
Think about that for a minute. This is a kid who enrolled early, in January, has been through all of 10 spring practices and is doing things that some veterans don’t do, sitting alone watching film, studying his technique, knowing when he does something wrong.
It takes something special to do that.
There were many who believed Joseph would wind up at the hometown school, Central Florida, when he finished his career at the Orlando high school he attended.
He was recruited hard by David Kelly, the assistant coach who resigned last November in the midst of a recruiting scandal that also cost the athletic director his job.
"I think what really changed for me was I knew that program was having problems, but even though Coach Kelly and I were close throughout the recruiting process, it really didn't make a difference because deep down I knew this was the place where I wanted to be," he said. "I had my mind made up before that."
His key recruiter here had been defensive backs coach David Lockwood, who left after last season to join Rich Rodriguez in Arizona. That did nothing to deter Joseph from coming to WVU.
“I was pretty close to him through the recruiting program but I choose this school because of the program and the people around me, not because of a coach,” he said.
Interestingly, but certainly not accidentally, he is rooming with Jordan Thompson, the diminutive inside receiver who is the top freshman recruit out of Katy, Tex., putting together the two true freshmen in camp most like to make big contributions this year.
As second teamers on offense and defense, they have had to go at each other in something more than the video games they play in their room.
“He’s quick,” Joseph admits, “but I got him a couple of times. After going against Tavon (Austin) it’s not as hard to get Jordan down.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/bhertzel.