WVU Sports with Mike Casazza

 

Hey, his knee looks good, no? Karl Joseph, the now former West Virginia safety, was the 14th overall pick Thursday. Four other Mountaineers followed during the seven-round event, making it the school’s best draft since 1999, and those five are going to sign contracts worth a little more than $23 million.

Five more undrafted free agents picked their new homes after the draft, and though their paths are trickier, they at least chose their teams based in large part on the likelihood of making the roster or the practice squad.

Let’s have a look, beginning with what’s probably the surprise of the event as it relates to the Mountaineers.

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That time Karl Joseph made history, money…

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You are looking live at the newest member of the Oakland Raiders, which is going to throw a scary defense out on the field this fall. Karl Joseph was selected with the 14th pick in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday, the highest a West Virginia safety has ever been selected.

Joseph believed he was due this ending, which is why he kept saying he was the best safety if not the best player in the draft, but he also received useful counsel before the draft from his determined agent, his friend and former teammate Kevin White and his future adversary, Todd Gurley.

“He gave me a lot of good advice early on on how to deal with the injury and about the whole process,” Joseph said. “He got hurt about the same time as me, a couple weeks later, actually, but close to the time I got hurt, so his advice meant a lot. The way he came back, the kind of season he had last year, I’m positive I’ll be able to do the same thing.”

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The time Karl took over a game

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A long, long, long time ago, we in this space dubbed Karl Joseph “Batting sixth, Karl Joseph.” He was a freshman and he was something like an all-or-nothing player. He was green, but he was good, but he was also green. He’d make a play or he’d miss. He’d be on top of something or he’s be somewhere else. He did more good than bad, but he was, in baseball terms, the sixth hitter. He’d smack a bunch of home runs and hit the ball hard, but he’d also strike out a lot and bat around .240.

It was fun and dumb, and it’s history. Joseph grew up to be way better than that joke, which we always knew would be the case.

He asked the NFL for draft feedback following the 2014 season, and the projections told him he’d be picked anywhere between the second and seventh rounds. It’s not a single-source evaluation, by the way. There are three evaluations, and all they told Joseph for sure was he’d be drafted but also that he could work on his pass coverage.

Joseph was dynamite in his first game of his senior season, and in the third quarter alone, he had five tackles and three interceptions, which was basically Joseph saying he got the message, and he would not change but would get better.

For the record, he was always above average when on the ball, which is different than in coverage. For proof, check out the first interception of his career, which was basically the lone defensive highlight from a 49-14 loss at Texas Tech in 2012.

My guess is many of you would make another choice for the most more memorable Karl Joseph moment from this game, which ended up being the last Joseph played for West Virginia, but this play might be my favorite Joseph play of all time. Perine is 5-foot-10 and 235 pounds and — I suspect what I’m about to tell you is was probably related to this play — ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns against the Mountaineers the year before. Steve Atwater and Christian Okoye think that was a collision.

 

Running back Wendell Smallwood, like Karl Joseph, will get drafted this weekend. Smallwood, like Joseph, enrolled in January, the former a year after the latter. And Joseph did not care for the impression Smallwood was attempting to make in his first spring with West Virginia and, more importantly, against Joseph’s defense. It would not stand.

“I kept getting first downs and he was like, not crying, but he was yelling at me, ‘You get one more first down, I’m going to kill you,’ ” Smallwood remembered. “I’d just gotten to school. I’m like, ‘Oh, man. This kid’s’ crazy.’ Then we get off the field and he’s on the sideline next to me, like, ‘What’s up? What are you doing out there?’ ”

All of that recognition goes into what makes each player. It’s as quintessential as winter workouts, spring drills and fall performances. Their reputations are earned and exhibited without apology.

“I don’t mind it at all,” Joseph said. “It’s not something I’d say I care much about, but I like it. Anytime I can get in somebody’s head and make them game-plan differently or think about how they’re going to run the ball on my side, that’s a plus.”

Who knows if this is true or not, but a talked-about draft preview with anonymous quotes from scouts says Karl Joseph “knocked out I think eight people in his career.” That’s not a funny thing, we’re not here to point at Marquise Goodwin and it’s feels weird that knockouts were presented as some sort of metric knowing what we know about the brain these days, but we can agree on this: Karl Joseph’s tackles were frequently more events than they were statistics.

This is from the fourth game of his first season, and though he’d leveled people before that, this was the first “Oh, mercy!” hit on his list.

It’s easy to forget today as we recall all the plays Joseph made as the bandit, but he started out as a free safety, and he made up for what he didn’t know about playing in the defensive backfield at this level by running downhill and flattening foes.

Fun fact about Joseph: He was a high school wrestler, basically because he wanted to find a way to literally fight boredom after football season. It’s one reason he arrived at West Virginia without any room for fear or time for apologies. He was going to let his teammates know who he was as soon and as unforgettably as possible.

When spring football came, he got to know linebacker Josh Francis in a rather unique way.

“Francis will wrestle anybody,” Garvin said of the 6-foot, 1-inch, 220-pound Francis, who was toughened by growing up in Damascus, Md., and then playing junior college football for two years at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa. “He’s a big, bad guy around here and if you wrestle Francis, you’re most likely going to lose.

“Karl ended up winning, so people were like, ‘Hold on, who’s that?’ ”

Not everyone knew, so Joseph took it upon himself to make sure they knew his name and understood he wasn’t scared of anything – except snakes, and he wouldn’t dare tell anyone that. During one spring practice, just as he was beginning to get his hands on some playing time, Joseph was with the defense that was going against an offense handing off to running back Shawne Alston.

Alston slipped through a gap before running into a pile of offensive and defensive players.

“I came to a stop,” Alston said. “Karl kept going. He blew me up a little bit.” Alston knew better than to ever let up again. “After that,” he said, “I started running angry all the time.”

Karl Joseph enrolled in January of his freshman year, and early in his first round of spring football with West Virginia, it was apparent he’d be a player from the start.

“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.”

Sure enough, Joseph started at free safety in his first game with the Mountaineers, and he’d start all 42 games he played in gold and blue. He was at the beginning what he was at the end: Quiet, confident and the last player you’d worry about before or during the game.

Oklahoma Mountaineer Drills are fun, I guess, but the surroundings always make it more exciting. Players and coaches  cried the drill and desire savagery, and the offense and the defense react in proportion to the outcome of the action.

It’s routine, to be honest, but every so often, you get a matchup everyone wants to see. Kevin White v. Karl Joseph during the 2014 camp was one of those matchups, and there was a buzz before this happened and then afterward.

Those two became good friends during the two years they spent together, and they were the baddest guys on the team that season. No wonder they remain close enough that White counseled Joseph before the draft. No wonder Joseph made a lot of bold proclamations, stirring soundbytes that sounded a like White.