Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen opened his press conference Monday by asking that everyone keep the Joseph family in their prayers. MSU freshman defensive end Keith Joseph, Jr. and his father, Keith Joseph, Sr., died in a car accident Friday.
“Losing a family member like that as part of your program — there’s nothing more devastating ever going to happen to you as a coach or as a football team or as a program,” Mullen said.
Mullen said Joseph Jr. was a 4.0 student and always deserving of the scout team player of the week for the Bulldogs.
“We had to share the award with other people because it wouldn’t have been fair,” Mullen said of Joseph Jr., who was redshirting the 2015 season. “He was the guy that gave everything that he had.”
Mullen was recruiting at a high school game when he heard the news, he said. He immediately got in touch with the Joseph family, then began reaching out to his players. That night, while Mullen was working on a game plan for the Bulldogs’ upcoming matchup against Alabama, his wife invited the team’s freshmen to the Mullen house for an opportunity to grieve together.
“When you look at college football players … they’re a bunch of 18-year-old kids that just lost a very, very close friend and family member of theirs,” Mullen said. “To keep them together I thought was really important.”
After playing last Thursday night, the players were given the weekend off. Now they are focused on Alabama, which Mullen called the best team in America. Not only is it an opportunity to honor Joseph Jr.’s memory (the Bulldogs will be wearing an “MJ” decal on their helmets), it is a way to help the players cope.
“For all these young men, football’s their safe place,” Mullen said. “That’s where any problem that you have, anything you’re dealing with, any grief you’re having, anything going on in your life — for a lot of our guys, when they step on the football field, that’s when a lot of things disappear.”