By JOEL COLEMAN
Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen stood at the podium on the Humphrey Coliseum floor on Thursday. With the caskets of freshman defensive lineman Keith Joseph Jr. and Joseph Jr.’s father, former MSU linebacker Keith Joseph Sr. on either side of him, the seventh-year leader of the Bulldogs addressed those gathered to pay respects to a pair of beloved teammates, friends and family members.
“Whenever I saw (Joseph Sr. and Joseph Jr.) together, the pride that they had in each other, the pride that Keith Jr. had in his father and Keith Sr. had for his son, it’s a special thing,” an emotional Mullen said. “All those times they were together, they left together and went on to heaven together.”
Joseph Jr. and Joseph Sr. were both tragically killed last Friday in a one-car accident while traveling to a high school football game. At Thursday’s memorial service, Mullen, Mississippi State president Mark Keenum and several other coaches and players reminisced about the impact Joseph Jr. and Joseph Sr. left behind.
“So often in life when you see people all the time and you see them every day, you can take them for granted,” Mullen said. “You don’t always notice how they influence you and what their impact in life is until they’re gone.”
Mississippi State senior defensive lineman Ryan Brown recalled his first encounter with Joseph Jr. after a conditioning drill. Brown said that he usually led the pack for those drills, but on this one particular day a newcomer zoomed past him. That unfamiliar face was Joseph Jr.
“We got to the locker room and I said if you keep working that hard, you’re going to sweat your Jheri curl off,” Brown said. “That’s when I first saw him smile. We’re here because of his smile.”
MSU recruiting specialist and former Bulldog quarterback Sleepy Robinson was a teammate of Joseph Sr.’s.
“As I look on the program (for the service), it says ‘Sleepy Robinson, friend and teammate of Keith Joseph Sr.,’” Robinson said. “I’m here to correct that. Keith Joseph Sr. was more than just a friend of mine. That was my brother.”
Joseph Jr. was redshirting in his first year with the Mississippi State football program. Though he never got the chance to play in an official game with the Bulldogs, Mullen spoke of how he deserved MSU’s scout team player of the week every time it had been awarded.
“I think everybody knows that it’s kind of a joke that he doesn’t get it every week,” Mullen said. “We have to share it, but there’s nobody that gives more effort, nobody that tries harder and nobody that put more into being his best than he did every single week. We shared it with other people on the team to try to motivate them, but I think everybody knew what type of person he was.”
Joseph Jr. was a 4.0 student at MSU, and while he was known for his unbelievable work ethic and smile, he was also recognized for his tight bond with Joseph Sr.
“I never got to see Keith Sr. as a football player or watch him play,” Mullen said. “What you saw though was a father that cared deeply about his son, loved his son, wanted to be around him, wanted to see his soon achieve his goals, live out his dreams, but also did it in a way that you don’t see in today’s world. He had a high standard of what he expected of him with how he raised him and the demands he put on him. I see the legacy of Keith Sr. as just a great father.”
Keenum spoke of meeting the Josephs when Keith Jr. came on a recruiting visit in January. MSU’s president presented the Joseph family with an honorary degree for Joseph Jr. on Thursday.
Following the service, members of the MSU football team gathered around Joseph Jr.’s casket and embraced before exiting with tear-filled eyes.
When both caskets were rolled away, two framed jerseys remained on the Hump floor with one sporting Joseph Jr.’s No. 99 and the other Joseph Sr.’s No. 93.
Mullen said the father-son duo will likely suit up with new uniforms in the days ahead.
“It’s probably an interesting draft day for the football teams in heaven,” Mullen said. “I’m sure they’re on the same team.”