After an injury-plagued redshirt freshman season, Clemson linebacker Kendall Joseph returned to the field with a flourish at Auburn on Saturday.
Joseph registered a team-high 14 tackles in second-ranked Clemson’s 19-13 win, including three tackles for loss and a sack. The Belton, S.C., native also had two quarterback pressures.
Last season, Joseph played just 63 total snaps across four games at linebacker. On Saturday, he played 66.
Joseph dealt with shoulder and knee injuries that slowed his development and capped his opportunities in 2015. Now fully healthy again, Joseph showed what he is capable of against Auburn.
“It felt really good,” Joseph said of his performance. “You feel like you’re ready, but you never really know until you get out there. To prepare really hard, and recognize all the formations that you prepare for… It felt really good to go out there, play hard and make an impact for my team.”
On Monday, Joseph’s efforts were recognized when he was named the Atlantic Coast Conference linebacker of the week.
“It feels awesome,” Joseph said of the honor. “I was kind of shocked to see it, but I worked really hard for this moment, and I just have to keep it up. That was last week, so hopefully I can get it again this week. I’m going to keep working and striving to get better.”
Before the game, Joseph soaked everything in and thought about the adversity he has had to overcome to become Clemson’s starting MIKE linebacker.
Joseph feels like he has come full circle since last season.
“When I was going through warm-ups, I walked around the field and I was praying,” Joseph said. “I was really just appreciative because it was like a full circle. This time last year, I was playing, but I wasn’t healthy. Thankfully right now I’m healthy, and hopefully I can continue. I was just really appreciative of the moment.”
Joseph certainly took advantage of the moment, too. He was the only player on either team to record three tackles for loss.
The 6-foot, 230-pounder was happy to help Clemson’s defense bail out an offense that struggled at times, because he knows there will be times when the offense has to have their backs, as well.
“It’s a team sport, so we have to be able to complement each other and pick each other up,” Joseph said. “I’m sure there will be games where the offense has to pick us up. So, we’re really just doing our job, holding down our side of the ball and keeping the offense up, supporting them, and really working hard to help us get a win at the end of the day.”
Joseph is a physical player who enjoys hitting and coming downhill to bring the boom on opposing offensive players.
He was able to do a lot of that last week against Auburn’s run-heavy attack, but this Saturday against Troy, Joseph and the defense will face a different challenge.
In its season opening 57-17 win at home over Austin Peay, Troy passed the ball 36 times, completing 29 of the throws for 323 yards and three touchdowns to no interceptions.
In 2015, Troy averaged 240.8 yards per game through the air and passed for 21 touchdowns.
Joseph knows what it will take to be good in coverage against Troy. He just has to go do it, and he is excited for the chance to follow up last week’s career performance with another good one on Saturday.
“Using good technique,” Joseph said when asked what he needs to do against the pass. “We work on it every day, so just using the technique that coach V (Brent Venables) works with me on, and just doing what I need to do to help the team get to win.”