By JOEL COLEMAN
Last Monday, on the five-year anniversary of the death of former player Nick Bell, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen stood at the podium at the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex during his weekly press conference and recalled the difficult days that followed Bell’s passing.
“I know for me, as a coach, I hope I never have to deal with anything that hard in my career again,” Mullen said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had to deal with anything close to that in my career as a football coach. When you lose a family member like that, it’s just a devastating thing.”
Tragically, just four days later, Mullen and the Mississippi State football family again found themselves mourning.
On Friday, freshman defensive lineman Keith Joseph Jr. and his father, former MSU linebacker Keith Joseph Sr., were killed in a one-car accident. The two were on the way to watch a Pascagoula High School football game, where Joseph Jr. played during his prep career.
“Words can’t express the sorrow we feel by having lost not one, but two members of the Bulldog family, father and son,” Mississippi State Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said in a university release. “I was a classmate of Keith Sr., and took pride in having Keith Jr. follow in his dad’s footsteps at MSU. They will both be missed greatly. It’s such a tragic reminder that life is precious and every day is a gift from God.”
Joseph Jr. was redshirting in his first season on campus at Mississippi State. He signed with the Bulldogs last February following a senior year at Pascagoula in which he racked up 70 tackles with 46 of those of the solo variety. He also tallied 14 tackles for loss, seven sacks and 10 quarterback hurries to go along with a blocked field goal. As a junior in 2013, Joseph Jr. recorded 67 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Joseph Jr.’s high school achievements earned him the opportunity to play at his dad’s alma mater. Joseph Sr., who played for MSU from 1989-92, ranks 10th all-time in Mississippi State history with 14 sacks.
Now, unbelievably, both are gone.
“We are deeply saddened and heartbroken by the tragic loss of Keith Jr. and his father,” Mullen said. “Keith had such a promising future as a Bulldog following in the legacy started by Keith Sr., who played for our program 25 years ago. Keith was a great student, a hard worker and a great teammate to all of us. With heavy hearts, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Joseph family, our entire Mississippi State community and all of the lives these Bulldogs touched.”
As news spread of the accident on Friday, numerous current Mississippi State football players and coaches took to social media to express their disbelief and condolences.
“People had no idea how GREAT (Joseph Jr.) was going to be,” MSU receiver Fred Ross posted to Twitter.
“This hurts so bad,” offensive lineman Rufus Warren posted. “(Joseph Jr.) did everything right. Didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t even really party. All about school and ball.”
“No words can ease the pain,” Mississippi State quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson tweeted. “I’m truly heartbroken. We love you MJ and Keith Sr.”
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the football program is all too familiar with handling circumstances such as these. Mullen knows from coping with Bell’s loss that the hurt never fully goes away.
“It’s something you’re always remembering and it’s always going to stick with you as you lose a family member way too soon in life,” Mullen said.