CLEMSON—The Clemson Tigers may have found their leader on the defensive side of the ball.
The biggest question mark for a defensive unit that returns seven starters and 27 lettermen off last year’s national championship squad was: Who will replace Ben Boulware as the leader of the Tiger defense?
That job of being the leader of arguably the most talented defensive unit in Clemson history has fallen to redshirt junior linebacker Kendall Joseph.
“Kendall loves it,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “He’s a very selfless player. He’s an excellent player and knows the system very well. He values the players around him. He has a maturity about him and he understands, ‘If I don’t lead, who will?’”
Joseph enters the 2017 campaign as the Tigers top returning tackler– amassing 124 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback pressures last season.
The veteran of the Clemson defense, Joseph understands fully that the torch of leadership has been passed.
“I have always been a leader,” Joseph said. “I have always worked hard. I’ve not tried to be the rah-rah guy, but as I got older I had to talk more here and there. The guys respect me, so I know I have the leadership of the defense and I will try to continue to do that this year.”
The burden of leadership is not one that he feels will have to be carried solely on his shoulders, as a bevy of veteran “super stars” are ready and waiting to help Joseph shoulder the weight.
But in all honesty the role of leader has nothing to do with a player’s recruiting ranking or draft projection. Instead, it has everything to do with a player’s willingness to put in the work that is asked of them.
And if they do that, then they will garner the respect that makes them a leader.
“We’ve got super stars—Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter (Lawrence) and you know, there are plenty of guys who can lead.,” Joseph said. “We lead by committee so when a guy says something and feels the need to speak up, we respect him on defense and will all listen. It’s not that one guy is claimed the leader or anything like that. It is guys who have worked hard and have earned that respect.
“The truth is, those guys work and I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. They’re guys that down the road can potentially play in the league. They have all the talent in the world, but they put the work in first. When guys see that, especially these talented freshmen, they see guys working the way they do it’s very encouraging.”
For Joseph, the fact that for the first time in his tenure at Clemson it is the defense that is drawing the accolades, and rightfully so with the question marks still on offense, is something that he and his other defenders are enjoying.
But they also understand that the bar for greatness on defense at Clemson has already been set very high—with the 2014 squad finishing the season as the No. 1 ranked team in total defense.
“We do—we take pride in it, but we know we have to put the work in,” Joseph said. “We always pay respect to the 2014 defense because they were the No. 1 defense so we know we can’t talk about being a great defense or a number defense, yet. We have to put the work in and we will see what happens.”
While Joseph has his eyes on the 2014 team as the benchmark for greatness, he is not going to set any goals for himself. Instead he believes that if he continues to do things the right way good things will happen for himself, and the Tigers.
“I don’t set stat goals, I just truly if I continue to be myself and command greatness out of myself and continue to work hard blessings will come,” Joseph said. “So, I don’t really set goals as far as stats. I just know I have to demand myself to work as hard as I can, and I feel like once I do that good things will always happen.”