BATON ROUGE, La. — Kelvin Joseph is quite possibly the world’s most athletic fat guy.
At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, he’s actually fit rather than fat. But one cannot escape their own past so easily, and Joseph has been carrying a burden since he was born. Because of his size at that time, his family dubbed him “Fat.”
It wasn’t unwarranted. At birth, Joseph was just one ounce lighter than was his now-375-pound LSU teammate, Dominic Livingston.
But even as he shed his chunkiness, Joseph never shed his name.
“I didn’t think it was going to stick with him forever,” said his mother, Latoria Stewart. “But even the teacher and coaches call him Fat. And now he’s going to college with that nickname.”
Clearly, the moniker doesn’t bother Joseph in the least.
“Everybody’s allowed to call me Fat. So feel free,” he said. “It’s fun, because it catches everybody off-guard [when I introduce myself.]”
Joseph will have a chance to start for the Tigers as a freshman, giving LSU a very real shot at the most excellent cornerback duo (by nickname) in college history — Fat Joseph and Greedy Williams.
But as fun as his name and personality are, Joseph’s personal story is not full of frivolity. By the time he entered second grade, he already had been molded by an unthinkable tragedy that will never stop shaping him.
In memory of Kevonté Joseph
Kelvin and Kevonté Joseph could have easily been mistaken for twins. There is the similarity in names, of course, that you commonly find with twins. Looking at pictures of the two as toddlers, it’s also difficult to determine the differences between their similarly cherubic grins.
Kelvin was the eldest by a full 18 months. But if you didn’t know that already, you might not have figured it out right away.
“They were very close,” Stewart said. “When you seen one, you seen the other. They did every sport together. If you bought one one thing, you had to buy the other. They had to be dressed just alike.”
And, of course, there was the occasional brotherly bickering. The last time Latoria saw Kevonté, he and Kelvin were battling for the last Pop-Tart as she dropped them off at their grandmother’s house before departing for her job at the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department.
That afternoon, she got the call every parent fears the most.
It was common for the boys to bounce between their grandma’s house and their aunt’s house — a trip of just 150 feet. On one of those trips, Kevonté peered over the top of his grandmother’s swimming pool and fell in. By the time they found him, it was too late. He had drowned.
“To get that call at work.. … people are crying and you’re still not getting what they’re trying to tell you,” Stewart said. “When you find out it’s your child, it was scary. I took it hard. I still take it hard. It’s an open wound that just won’t close.”
Kelvin wears the wound every day.
“We just get through,” he said simply.
Stewart remains impressed by the resolve and strength of her surviving son, and said football is crucial to how he’s been able to do it.
“We are rooted and grounded in church. We pray for each other,” Stewart said. “He used football as his way of getting his mind off of it. The sports keep him going. We sit and pray about it. He’s stronger than me when it comes to that. I break down at times.”
Kelvin doesn’t see there being much of a choice.
“We have to keep going,” he said.
Fortunately, he’s had plenty of help on his path forward.
Do you know Da Vibe?
Scotlandville High School is just 12 miles from Tiger Stadium, but Joseph is the first Hornets football player to earn a scholarship to LSU.
“It’s a blessing to be the first,” he said.
He didn’t arrive on campus alone, however.
The LSU basketball team has the 247Sports composite’s third-ranked recruiting class in the Class of 2018 thanks in no small part to Javonte Smart, a combo guard who led the Hornets to three Class 5A state championships in four seasons.
Joseph and Smart are linked not only by their athleticism, but their shared recovery from tragedy. The same year Kelvin lost his brother, Smart lost his father in a shooting that remains unsolved.
“He kind of clings to Smart as his brother,” Stewart said. “Now when you see one, you see the other.”
How close are they? The two have developed their own catchphrase, which in turn has become a hashtag on social media: #ykdavibe.
Bro people going crazy for ykdavibe…😂😂
— Javonte Smart (@JavonteSmart) June 2, 2018
— Kelvin Joseph || (@bossmanfat1) June 20, 2018
— suave 🏅 (@sosasuave) May 27, 2018
— Emmitt Williams (@EmmittWilliams6) February 7, 2018
— ️️️️️12 (@_jaredsparks2) June 19, 2018
The hashtag that is spreading like wildfire is shorthand for “You Know Da Vibe.” The origins are innocuous.
“Instead of saying ‘What are you doing?’ we’d say ‘What’s your vibe?'” Joseph explained. “[We’d answer] ‘You know da vibe.'”
Whether through their own charisma or the fact that things spread on the internet without needing a reason, the phrase is expanding well outside of their personal circle.
“It can get bigger. I feel like we can take it further,” Joseph said. “Other people will catch on.”
Superstar mentors show the way
In addition to the help he gets from grinding toward the top with his boyhood friend, Joseph has had the good fortune to be mentored by those who have already made it.
One of those mentors is fellow Baton Rouge native Derrius Guice, who was drafted by the Washington Redskins in April.
“Guice took him under his wings when he was looking into LSU,” Stewart said. “He was mentoring him and showing him around.”
Though Guice was nice, Joseph’s favorite player growing up was the last LSU player to reach New York City as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy — the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu.
On a whim, Joseph reached out to Mathieu on Instagram. To his surprise, he soon heard back from his all-time favorite.
“All of the sudden, Tyrann came along,” Stewart said. “He used to always like Tyrann Mathieu. It’s crazy. Kelvin can say ‘Now he’s my mentor and friend, someone I looked up to.’ I felt like that was pretty cool.”
Mathieu has done his part on social media to get LSU fans fired up for Joseph’s arrival on campus.
Joseph is humbled by the experience.
“It’s just a blessing that he reaches out to other people. It’s good on his part to reach out to me and look out for me,” Joseph said. “Some people forget about others.”
Making it on his own
Joseph was supposed to be just one piece in a star-studded Class of 2018 LSU defensive backfield. A piece that was supposed to play safety. The Tigers were poised to add as many as three cornerbacks in the class: Ar’Darius Washington, Mario Goodrich and Patrick Surtain Jr.
Though Joseph played both positions in high school, the move to safety was intended to prevent opposing offenses from avoiding him on the field. LSU was planning to have enough depth to keep him in the back of the secondary.
That didn’t happen.
When the dust settled after National Signing Day, Joseph was the only defensive back in his class. Combined with Kevin Toliver’s premature departure for the NFL and Kristian Fulton’s NCAA suspension, he went from a luxury to a necessity and will move back to corner.
“Coach [Corey] Raymond said he could see me at every position, so it wasn’t a big deal for me. I have a chance to play,” Joseph said. “I’m not putting pressure on myself. I’m just going out there like I’m supposed to do. Everybody wants to come to college, and play right away if they get the chance.”
Though he is LSU’s lone freshman cornerback on paper, Kelvin “Fat” Joseph will never walk alone. Kevonté is still there, pushing him in spirit.
“I feel like he would be proud,” Kelvin said. “And there’s better things coming. I’ve got to make it for both of us.”