Nov. 7, 2002
NEW ORLEANS, La. - It takes all types of people to make a successful football team.
For every star running back, there is an unknown offensive guard. For every star punt returner, there is a special teams specialist. And for every starter, there is a back-up -- someone who works just as hard to know and run the plays, who is critical to the success of a program, yet who rarely gets a chance at the spotlight. It is upon these people that successful football teams are built. Because for every Shaun King, Patrick Ramsey and J.P. Losman, there is a Derrick Joseph. And to call Derrick Joseph anything but successful is to completely miss the point.
At the advanced age of 23, Joseph is the "old man" of the Tulane football team. One of just three seniors on offense in 2002, and the only remaining player on the Tulane team who saw action during the perfect season of 1998, Joseph has spent his career behind three of the most successful quarterbacks in Tulane history in Shaun King, Patrick Ramsey and J.P. Losman.
But Joseph's success story starts long before he ever put on a Tulane uniform. The younger of two sons of Terry and Geraldine Joseph of Harvey, La., Derrick was following a long Joseph family tradition when he became the quarterback at Archbishop Shaw High School. Joseph's cousins, Mickey and Vance, had both been quarterbacks at Shaw, while his older brother, Terry, had played receiver at the school.
Derrick outshone them all as he took over the reigns at Shaw as a freshman and went on to start 49 consecutive games at quarterback for the Eagles. During his prep career, Joseph passed for 5,295 yards and threw 57 touchdown passes while accounting for 7,420 yards of total offense and 92 touchdowns. He rushed for 2,125 yards and 35 TDs. Those numbers, including completing 82-of-152 passes for 1,725 yards and 20 TDs as a senior, helped make Joseph an honorable-mention selection to USA Today's All-USA team, and he was named The Times-Picayune Male Athlete of the Year. He was a first team All-State selection, a Max Emfinger All-American and made The Times-Picayune blue chip list and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Super South 100.
Despite all those starts and stats, Joseph said he never thought of himself as a leader until he saw himself on the cover of The Times-Picayune Metro Prep Preview section for 1997, decked out in a tuxedo under the headline "Leading Man."
"I really didn't realize I was (a leader) until I saw that. I'm not a very vocal person but I try to lead by sharing my experiences. People see what I do, and I try to set good examples," Joseph said.
Yet it is those leadership qualities which Tulane coaches point to first when talking about Joseph.
"We knew he was a great player," said quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo, a member of the Green Wave staff when Joseph was recruited. "But more than anything else, he was a great leader and you want as many of those guys on your team as you can get."
Tulane did get Joseph, along with his two best friends and Shaw teammates, Torie Taulli and Terrell Harris. After a tumultuous recruiting period during which all three changed their minds at least once, the trio signed with Tulane and arrived on campus just in time to see King and their older teammates take the nation by storm in 1998. Joseph still calls being a part of that team the most memorable part of his Wave career so far.
"Being on that team was special," Joseph said. "I remember coming into camp as a rookie and just watching and learning from them (the older players), how to do things in school and out of school. People were very mature and grown up (compared to high school). To come from a high school where we won a lot of games, and come into college and win all the games, that was pretty special. I learned a lot from watching Shaun (King) that year."
It wasn't all watching and learning, though. In fact, on the very first play of that 1998 season, Joseph ran for 25 yards on the reverse against Cincinnati from a wide receiver spot. But his season was cut short with a back injury after two games and he received a medical redshirt.
Joseph continued his "rollercoaster ride," as he calls it, over the next two years, going from quarterback to wide receiver and back again. First, he battled Ramsey for the starting quarterback spot in 1999 and ended up playing in all 11 games as Ramsey's back-up, finishing the season as Tulane's second-leading rusher with 227 yards on 38 carries. The next season, he found himself at wide receiver, always knowing that he was the third or "emergency" quarterback.
In typical Joseph fashion, he views that 2000 season at wide receiver as a positive, even though he spent most of the year playing behind two standouts in Kerwin Cook and Adrian Burnette, as well as his old buddy Harris.
"It was pretty difficult (moving to receiver) because I'd been playing quarterback all my life," Joseph said. "I'm not a selfish person and I wanted to help the team. That was a good corps of receivers and it was difficult sitting behind them. But I learned from them and it has helped me now to be a better quarterback. Playing receiver has given me an insight into how the receiver has to think."
Strangely enough, Derrick's transition from quarterback to receiver at Tulane paralleled the athletic careers of his older cousins and brother. Mickey had signed with Nebraska out of Shaw, but was injured as his career was cut short. Vance decided on Colorado, where he played quarterback behind Kordell Stewart before being moved to running back. And Terry, who played baseball at Northwestern State, was drafted by Chicago Cubs and had a difficult time in the pros. Derrick said their experiences, attitudes and encouraging words helped him through some of the hard times.
"Vance always told me 'if it happens (you get moved to another position), be OK with it and do your best, and Mickey said 'whatever happens, do the best you can,'" Joseph said. "They always taught me that whatever happens, there's a reason for it, and there's always a bright side, whether it's losing a game or moving to another position. They never looked at it as a win-lose situation, it's a win-win. I trusted their experience because they went through it and it turned out OK and whatever happens, I'm going to get a great degree and come out of here with a good job."
Even while playing receiver, Joseph considered himself a quarterback first, and when J.P. Losman went down with a knee injury last year and a reliable back-up was needed for Ramsey, there was Joseph, right where the team needed him.
"When J.P. got hurt, Derrick came to us and said he needed to make the move for the team," Frank Scelfo said. "Then when Pat got hurt at UAB, he came in and threw a touchdown pass on the first play."
Those kinds of results demonstrate what Joseph's career has been about - anything for the team.
This year, as one of the few seniors on offense, Joseph has taken on the role of tutoring freshmen quarterbacks Billy Don Malone and Nick Cannon on the sidelines during games, while also keeping a close eye on the action. He is quick to offer a play-calling suggestion to the coaches if he sees something that might be open and he'll even occasionally steal an opponent's signal.
"I'm the oldest guy on the team, so everybody comes to me and says 'Derrick, you've been here a long time. What's going on?'" Joseph said. "It feels good being older. The coaches talk to you like a person instead of just a player. Coach Chris (Scelfo) and I were talking today about how my class could be the first class in a long time to leave here with two bowl rings."
That kind of ending would, without a doubt, make Joseph's career at Tulane a resounding success. But Frank Scelfo says that's already guaranteed.
"Success is not measured by yardage or touchdown passes, but by leadership qualities and how he conducts himself," Scelfo said. "His overall contributions to the team have been so much more than what he's done on the playing field. He's shown leadership, quality, character and solid citizenship; he's a 'do the right thing' guy, and he gets other people to do the right thing. He's hard working. He encourages other people. Those are intangibles that fans don't see and the media doesn't write about, but as coaches, you appreciate it and you look for it."
Those are the type of people that make a football program successful.