By Alex Maminakis

The Journal

ARLINGTON, Texas — Kendall Joseph is just a humble guy from Belton who knows the value of hard work.

 He knows, because it’s gotten him to where he is today — one of the best players on one of the best defenses in the country, starting at middle linebacker for the No. 2 Clemson Tigers.

“He’s an unbelievable leader for us. He’s a captain of our football team,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Joseph. “He’s a fifth-year senior and has been a three-year starter — a very, very talented and dynamic young man.”

The fifth-year graduate has been one of Clemson’s most reliable defenders since his redshirt freshman year in 2015, and this season — his final one in a Clemson uniform — he’s second on the team in tackles with 78 and has five tackles for loss, four sacks, two pass breakups and nine quarterback pressures.

Simply put, Joseph is rock solid as an anchor on the Clemson defense, and he has the full respect of his teammates and coaches, but he still plays with a quiet chip on his shoulder.

“I feel like I’m underrated,” Joseph said Thursday. “But I feel like the guys that know me well — my teammates and my coaches — I think they appreciate who I am, and they know what I can do. And I know what I can do. I’ve never been one to crave attention or anything like that, so I’ve been able to take it in well. But I definitely do (feel underrated), but I think it’s up to me to play well and be a great linebacker for my teammates.”

Joseph knows he’ll soon have to start focusing on his prospects for a pro career once the Tigers’ season comes to an end, whenever that may be. And that process is in the back of his mind, but right now he’s locked in on playing No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) today (4 p.m., ESPN) in Arlington, Texas, in the Cotton Bowl semifinal of the College Football Playoff.

He’s also absorbing everything he can in these final weeks as a Tiger, cherishing as much as he can about the finality of his college career.

“From fall camp, it’s a different feeling knowing it’s your last,” Joseph said. “You just have a different gratitude about it, and I’ve just been really appreciative and not wishing nothing away, not wishing a day away, not a practice — you kind of take it all in and savor it, because it is coming to an end.”

Joseph has enjoyed his five years with the Tigers (13-0) and being able to play close to home and represent his community and make it proud.

The former Belton-Honea Path High School standout knows what it means for kids in high school and younger to have a role model to look up to, and he hopes he has served as inspiration to young players in his hometown community and around the Upstate.

“It’s been great being able to play so close to home, and I just feel like I’ve been able to make the impact on the community and inspire kids that go to BHP,” he said. “You’ve got guys representing from being around the 864 area — it’s big, man, just to be an inspiration to some other kid. I remember being a kid in middle school, high school — I just looked for inspiration. Even guys that were from my high school that went to like Presbyterian College, I looked up to them. I know there’s guys that look up to me, and I’m happy to show them the way.”

It would be hard for kids to find a better college football role model than Joseph, who has not only started at Clemson for three seasons and earned captain honors, but developed as a young man both on and off the field and graduated with a degree in health science in December 2017.

Joseph doesn’t know what the future holds after his Clemson career comes to an end, but he’s proud of his time as a Tiger and wants to finish strong with a solid performance today against the Fighting Irish and possibly another chance at a national championship.

Whatever success he may reach, though, now and in the future, he’ll always be that humble guy from Belton.

“I’ve just been blessed to be able to be in this position — I’m not special in no kind of way,” Joseph said. “God just picked me to be here, and I’ve worked really hard to get here as well. I’m just happy to make the community proud.”

alex@upstatetoday.com | (864) 882-2386

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