True freshman makes an impact for WVU
MORGANTOWN -- Karl Joseph looms like the next big thing on West Virginia's defense, a mean tackling machine with a gift for picking up instruction as quickly as he takes down opponents.
"You can pencil him in to play a good bit," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He is mature, he is physical and he is not scared. 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."
Yet Joseph, a true freshman safety from Orlando, Fla., who has been on campus barely three months, doesn't know why he is a big deal.
He would be more disappointed if he wasn't already in position to play a lot at the bandit position.
"I knew I'd be able to compete," he said. "Football is my passion. I love to play and it drives me to get better. I like to watch film by myself sometimes to correct my mistakes so I already know what I did wrong before my coach tells me. You've got to be driven by it."
The 5 foot, 10 inch, 195-pound Edgewater High School product was regarded as one of the better players in Florida last year and a top 50 safety nationally. In his final two seasons he had 268 tackles (206 solo) and 12 sacks, six blocked kicks as a senior and six forced turnovers as a junior.
It was the nature of the plays, as opposed to the number of them, that drew the most attention. He was often described as a ferocious hitter.
"I'm very physical and that's what a lot of coaches liked about me, but I played in the box a lot in high school and was used on the field to make plays," he said. "I did more than just come downhill and hit somebody."
It's not easy convincing those just getting to know him. There are highlight clips online that show him running through opponents and playing in a way that might encourage other teams to stay away from him.
However, Joseph and his coaches didn't allow that. He played close to the line of scrimmage in high school, either as a linebacker or a safety given permission to freelance, and developed a reputation.
He says it's not entirely accurate.
"A lot of people don't know I was recruited as a cornerback a whole lot," Joseph said. "I've got pretty good coverage skills."
South Carolina, Florida and Cincinnati looked at Joseph as a cornerback and Joseph ended up picking the Mountaineers over them and Tennessee, as well as his hometown school, Central Florida. Joseph liked the Knights and what they were doing, but David Kelly, the assistant coach recruiting Joseph, resigned last November in a recruiting scandal in football and basketball that also claimed the athletic director.
"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."
The Mountaineers were excited to see Joseph commit and enroll in January. He jumped into the weight room and got into 7-on-7 drills as often as possible. The head start has him at bandit backing up junior Darwin Cook, who was second on the team with 85 tackles in 2011.
"I'm 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," Holgorsen said.
But why is it Joseph, one of five true freshmen to enroll in January? Why not fellow Floridian safety Sean Walters, who hasn't been bad and has added 25 pounds so he can adjust to playing the Star position closer to the line of scrimmage?
"You guys tell me," Joseph said.
He doesn't know the answer because he doesn't know any other way to play than the way he has so far.
"I knew I'd be able to compete," he said. "I take football serious. I knew at an early age football was what I wanted to do with my life."
This is just the beginning, too. He doesn't think he's a finished product or even ready to go. He says there are many things he has to learn before he can begin to get them better. He also knows there are now five spring practices left and all of the summer's opportunities for improvement before fall camp. He's more excited to get those started than he is to finish.
"That's the way you've got to do it," he said. "You can't go out there just to get through it. You've got to take it as an opportunity to get better."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.