From Oswego HS backup to Div. III star, Michael Joseph’s journey expands to NFL

MOBILE, Ala. — When Michael Joseph cut his own high school highlight reel, he didn’t overlay it with the typical pounding hip-hop beat — or any music at all.

It was, after all, only two minutes long and featured a handful of plays on special teams. Joseph didn’t start a single game at Oswego, so the cornerback didn’t have many clips to choose from. He was credited with nine tackles as a senior.

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“I only got in the game,” he said, “when they were up by a lot.”

North cornerback Michael Joseph runs through drills during the Senior Bowl. (AP)

Those rare moments were enough to keep Joseph going, and amazingly, to make him think he could play college football at Division III Dubuque. This week, he began chasing an even more unlikely dream at the Senior Bowl.

“Resiliency,” he said. “I just worked it out, and I knew I had some talent and just needed to get out of my shell more. Stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit helped me step into the spotlight at Dubuque.”

The undersized, quiet high schooler — he was 5-2, 92 pounds as an Oswego freshman and 5-10, 145 as a senior — nonetheless was convinced he could play college football. In 2013, Joseph enrolled at the Division III school in Iowa, where his cousin ran track, and tried to join the team.

Coach Stan Zweifel told Joseph to spend the first semester lifting weights on his own as part of a developmental squad.

“I didn’t think he was physically ready to play,” Zweifel said. “I was more concerned about him getting beat up and injured more than anything else.”

After the season, he began working out with the football team. Boasting an impressive ability to change direction, he shut down receiver Tyler Rutenbeck, who later would spend time with the Colts, and he earned his way onto the squad.

“It was, ‘All right, maybe I can play at this level,’ ” Joseph said.

Joseph played special teams in his first year. He was all-conference as a sophomore. As a senior, he won the Cliff Harris Award, given to the small-college defensive player of the year. The Bears and Vikings were the earliest to make the special trip to Dubuque to scout him.

Leading up to his senior season, Zweifel estimated that Joseph watched 189 hours of game film of himself, opponents and NFL
cornerbacks.

“When you have confidence in yourself, it just brings out the best of your abilities,” Joseph said. “Along with studying a lot of film — that just helps me make plays.”

More critical to his NFL chances, he grew over two inches in college. Joseph, who will attend the NFL Scouting Combine next month, measured 6-0, 186 pounds this week. He could be a third-day draft selection.

Zweifel, who brought his entire staff to Mobile to watch Joseph, knows the odds are long. In 44 years as a coach, he has had only seven players get drafted or spend a year in the NFL. But what were the odds Joseph would get to this point, anyway?

“It just shows them I have some resiliency, and you’re gonna get a player that’s not gonna quit,” Joseph said. “If something doesn’t go my way, I’m gonna find a way to work it out.”

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@patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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