Remembering Millsaps great Juan Joseph

Juan Joseph, far right, with 2008 C Spire Conerly Trophy as Mike Oher, far left, and Peria Jerry look on.
Juan Joseph, far right, with 2008 C Spire Conerly Trophy as Mike Oher, far left, and Peria Jerry look on.

(In October of 2008, I went out to Millsaps to meet this quarterback I had heard so much about. The guy I found was engaging, smart, witty and poised. He was Juan Joseph, who was shot and killed this weekend in Baton Rouge. “Unbelievable, just unbelievable, such a waste,” Millsaps head coach Aaron Pelch said this morning. “These days there just seems to be less and less value placed on a human life. Juan was a great young man. He came back and got his MBA. He was going to be successful no matter what he did.”

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What follows is a column I wrote following my 2008 visit with Joseph, who went on that year to win the C Spire Conerly Trophy.)

Juan Joseph, senior quarterback of the undefeated Millsaps Majors, possesses the talent and the arm to play at a higher level than NCAA Division III.

Take it from Millsaps coach Mike DuBose, formerly the head coach at Alabama: “Oh yeah, Juan could play for most anybody. He’s what you want, especially in the spread offense.”

In fact, Joseph was offered a scholarship at the Division I level.

“I could have gone to Alcorn State, and I really enjoyed my visit there,”Joseph said. “But then I came to Millsaps. I just loved the whole feel of the place. To tell you the truth, the decision was about a lot more than football.”

Elizabeth Joseph, Juan’s mother and a Web designer for the U.S. Navy, watched her son at both college visits.

“He enjoyed himself at Alcorn but I thought he was quiet and subdued,” Elizabeth Joseph said. “At Millsaps, it was obvious how much he liked it. He just brightened up, a big smile on his face and that was before he knew anything about the football.”

In the Joseph household, the priorities are in this order:1) church, 2) academics, 3) athletics, 4) social life. Elizabeth and Gregory Joseph, Juan’s father and a former Grambling shortstop, have made sure of that.

Juan Joseph was an honors student at West St. John High School, hard by the Mississippi River in Edgard, La. He graduated sixth in his class with a 4.1 GPA (on a 4.0 scale.) He played quarterback in football, pitched and played shortstop in baseball, and played guard in basketball.

Joseph, as witty as he is bright, will tell you the books came easy in high school. He made A’s without effort.

“I was in for a really rude awakening at Millsaps,” he says. “I had to learn how to study and budget my time. I had to learn really fast.”

A business administration major with a concentration in finance and marketing, he has steadily raised his GPA to a 3.2 overall and made a 3.8 last semester. He will graduate in May, and while DuBose thinks Joseph can play in the Canadian Football League if he so chooses, Joseph figures he will probably get a job – “a good job,”he says – and enter the business world.

But, first things first. The Millsaps Majors, ranked No. 12 in NCAA Division III, will go for their seventh straight victory Saturday when Sewanee comes to town.

“As long as we don’t beat ourselves, we can go all the way,” Joseph says. “I know Coach DuBose says I could play at a higher level, but I think we’ve got a lot of guys who could play at a higher level.”

Nobody has come close to beating Millsaps to date. The Majors are outscoring opponents by an average of 45-13. The average halftime score has been 26-6. In most games, DuBose has substituted liberally.

Although Joseph will tell you – as he has been coached to do – that the next game is the most important game, the Majors probably can’t help sneaking a peek to Nov. 1 when they will play at undefeated Trinity. It was Trinity that ruined an otherwise perfect Millsaps season last season with the stunning, last-second, multi-lateral scoring play made famous by ESPN and youtube.com.

Joseph’s football numbers are even more impressive than his academic stats. He has thrown 19 touchdowns, compared to just three interceptions and is averaging 266 passing yards per game. Keep in mind, he often spends the fourth quarter watching.

Says Millsaps offensive coordinator John David Caffey:”Juan can make all the throws. But it’s his decision-making and leadership that sets him apart.”

Caffey spent the last two years as a graduate assistant under Hal Mumme at New Mexico State where record-setting Chase Holbrook has thrown for more than 10,000 yards over the past three seasons. Caffey says Joseph “is right there in that same league with Holbrook. He can play now.”

Yes, Joseph will tell you, he has daydreamed at times about what it would be like to play on TV before thousands of fans instead of hundreds.

“But the bottom line is, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he says. “I’m right where I need to be. What I love about Division III is that if you’re playing out here, you have a passion for the game, because you aren’t getting anything else for playing. You play because you love to play.”

This, Joseph says, with a smile on his face, a smile that widens when asked about his name Juan and whether there is any Hispanic background in his family.

“Oh no,” he says, breaking into a chuckle. “I think my mama must have eaten that day at Taco Bell.”

But there’s a serious side to Joseph, as Caffey, the offensive coordinator, points out.

“A few weeks ago, we had a really bad Tuesday practice,”Caffey says. “When it ended, I was just about to really chew on them when Juan called the offense over and told them to take a knee. He saw me and said, ‘Coach, I got this.’ And he took care of it. He got the point across better than I could. We had great practices the rest of the week and we won 49 to 2 that Saturday. That’s the kind of leader he is.”

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