By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 2, 2014) – In Haiti, where both his parents and grandparents are from, football has an entirely different meaning than it does in Pennsylvania, where Sebastian Joseph was raised.
So when Joseph first declared his intention to play “football” as a youngster, his mother, especially, was delighted.
Then she found out exactly what American football entailed.
“My father knew a lot about football. He’s more Americanized than my mother,” Rutgers’ redshirt freshman nose guard said following the Scarlet Knights’ second preseason practice. “My mom was confused because to her soccer is called football. In Haiti they speak French, and to everyone there football is soccer. So when she first heard about what American football was really about she said `What is this game? Oh my goodness.’ ”
Joseph (Stroudsburg, Pa.) said his mother has since gotten over her concerns, although it did take a while.
“She has always been nervous about me playing football,” he said. “She never showed up to my games. She was too scared. She finally showed up to one of my championship games in high school and she covered her eyes the whole time.”
Joseph, a 6-4, 285-pounder, hopes to give his entire family plenty to watch this year. He’s currently backing up senior Kenneth Kirksey (Daytona Beach, Fla.) at nose guard and should see plenty of time since Rutgers intends to showcase its depth on the defensive line by constantly rotating at all four positions.
Though Kirksey has waited for this opportunity as well, he’s up for sharing time with Joseph if that’s how things play out at the position.
“Sebastian has come a long way. He’s learning quickly,” Kirksey said. “I probably won’t want to come out, but if we have to split reps that’s fine because he needs the experience too. I’m comfortable with him behind me and when he will be in the game for me. Between the two of us I think we can really help this team.”
Joseph, who intends to legally change his last name to Joseph-Day to represent both sides of his family, was converted from the three-technique spot last year to nose guard this year. His brute strength and surprising quickness impressed the coaching staff immediately.
Kirksey, at 6-1, 275, is built more like a prototypical nose guard. He appeared in a combined 18 games in 2011 and 2012 and was on course to be a major factor with Ike Holmes at nose guard last year before being sidelined for the season after three games due to an upper body injury.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the field,” Kirksey said. “I really thought last year would be my breakout year. But things happen you can’t control. You’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt. So I had to wait until this year.
“This is my opportunity. Well, my opportunity was really last year but I got hurt. So this is redemption.”
Head coach Kyle Flood expects both players to have an impact this season – at a position he views as critical to the success of the defense.
“For us to play defense at a high level, that nose guard has got to be a disruptive guy,” Flood said. “You go back to a guy like Ramel Meekins, who then handed the torch to Charlie Noonan, who then handed the torch to Scott Vallone, then Isaac Holmes after Scott, and now the torch has been handed to Kenny Kirksey and Sebastian Joseph.
“All of those players were very disruptive players in our defense. We’re a little unique in how we play that nose guard. We rely on him to create a lot of havoc on the inside. So to have somebody who has been in the program as long as Kenny has and someone who has the potential upside that Sebastian does we feel we have two guys there that can perform at that level. Now they’ve got to prove they can do it.”
Joseph is just happy to have the opportunity to get on the field again – even if it still makes his mother cringe to watch at times.
“I’m excited. I’m just trying to make an impression to show the coaches I can really help this team out,” he said. “Redshirting last year helped me in every area -- mentally, physically, all around. Right now I feel I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in and I know what I’m doing. I really wasn’t sure what I was doing last year. So I’m ready for whatever they need me to do.”