Kendall Joseph always seems to stay beneath the radar. Each week, he goes unnoticed by many as he fulfills his responsibilities and executes his assignments without the flash or pizazz that follows some of his fellow players on Clemson’s defense.
Before the season, many wondered if Joseph would be an adequate replacement at middle linebacker for B.J. Goodson, who broke out as a senior in 2015 before heading to the NFL. Some speculated that highly touted true freshman Tre Lamar would usurp Goodson as a starter at some point in 2016, or at least cut into his playing time.
Through nine games, Joseph has deadened any doubts about his viability in the middle of Clemson’s defense, and he has done it in uncelebrated, almost anonymous fashion.
Joseph has quietly been one of second-ranked Clemson’s most productive players this season heading into the game against Pittsburgh on Saturday. The redshirt sophomore ranks third on the team with 73 total tackles, second with seven tackles for loss and fourth with 11 quarterback pressures, while his 569 snaps played trails only Van Smith’s 578.
“He’s very strong-minded, very strong-willed,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said, “and he’s been a real quiet, consistent part of our success this year.”
This season marks Joseph’s first as a starter, though he was on the verge of starting over Goodson last year before suffering a shoulder injury in the spring that set him back.
Joseph played sparingly last season, but came on at the end, performed well and gained confidence. He carried that momentum into the spring and then carried it again into the season.
“I think Kendall’s played great,” Clemson head coach Swinney said. “I think he’s been very consistent all year long. I think you just look at his grades that he has in term here, he’s been very, very steady. Tremendous job filling some big shoes of B.J. B.J. played at such a high level for us last year, and we really expected that from Kendall.”
Joseph’s consistency shows up in the box scores. The native of Belton, S.C., has recorded at least seven tackles in five of nine games, including 10 or more tackles on two occasions.
Venables said that consistency is a product of his demeanor, mentality, work ethic in practice and overall preparation for Saturdays.
“He never gets real high, never gets real low,” Venables said. “He’s very focused, very serious. It means a lot to him, what his teammates think about him, what his coaches think about him. It means a lot how he practices. He’s completely, totally and fully invested. He values all of the things that you have to do to before you ever get to the practice field in game day in his preparation.”
Joseph was an unheralded three-star recruit coming out of Belton-Honea Path High School. Though he isn’t as talented as some of the players he faces on a weekly basis, Joseph makes up for it with the great equalizer of raw effort.
In many ways, Joseph reminds Venables of the type of gritty, tough-nosed linebacker he once was.
“He’s real humble, tough, hardworking, blue collar — he’s our kind of guy,” Venables said. “But he’s talented, as well. But he’s got a workmanlike effort.”
Joseph doesn’t find himself in the limelight much. Instead, he quietly goes about his business both on and off the field.
Joseph’s value to the team may be underestimated or underappreciated by some, but his coaches and teammates know what they have in the quiet leader of Clemson’s defense.
“He’s a quiet leader, but man, he does his job,” Swinney said. “He studies the game and prepares as well as anybody we have. So, he’s one of those underrated guys on our team. Not a lot of flash, don’t hear him a lot, but he’s incredibly important to this football team.”