When South Charleston coach Donnie Mays thinks back on how linebacker Drew Joseph got his big break, he has to chuckle.
It was the fourth game of Joseph’s freshman season in 2015, a date with Cabell Midland — at the time unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in Class AAA.
Joseph had not played a lick of defense to that point of the game or the season, but was inserted into the lineup when SC’s defensive leader and Division I recruit, Derrek Pitts, suffered a shoulder injury just before halftime.
By game’s end, Joseph had racked up 15 tackles — bettering the 13 Pitts collected in the first half — despite his inexperience.
“He never came off the field,’’ Mays recalled, then took a shot at himself. “I guess it’s just bad coaching that he hadn’t played before.’’
Joseph has certainly played a lot since then, and Black Eagles fans are pleased about that, because he’s become a tackling machine.
Last season, as SC reached the playoff quarterfinals, Joseph led the team in tackles by a wide margin. He came up with 116 solo stops and assisted on 65 others, giving him a total of 181 tackles in 12 games, nine of them for lost yardage. He also batted down four passes and caused two fumbles.
South Charleston’s next-closest defender was Nunu Cunningham with 66 solo tackles and 107 total stops. It marked the second straight 100-tackle season for Joseph, who actually led the team in total stops as a freshman (111) even though he sat out those first 3 1/2 games. He ended up four behind WVU recruit Pitts, however, in solo tackles (61 to 57).
“Drew is a good, smart player who learns,’’ Mays said. “He’s very coachable.’’
Mays expects the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Joseph will continue to lead SC’s defense this season as the mike (middle inside) linebacker. Preseason practice begins in three weeks around West Virginia.
“I think he’s grown into the leader of the defense,’’ Mays said. “Everything’s going to go around him. He’s learned from some pretty good players he’s been around. Our defense is going to go through him.
“He’s what you call a sideline-to-sideline guy. He can run you down; he’s fast enough to do it. And he’s a tough kid. He can stick his nose up in there whether it’s a fullback trap or power play. We really haven’t had a kid like him since the years of Aaron Slusher [2005-08]. Slusher was taller, but Drew’s thicker.’’
Mays said Joseph succeeds on the field because he remains a flurry of activity whether he’s playing or not.
“He’s a workout warrior,’’ May said. “Drew doesn’t miss the weight room. If he happens to get sick, he does double duty the next day. He’s a hard worker.
“And he’s constantly going. He works out with us, then goes out and does extra things on his own to make himself better. People don’t realize how good he is until they see film. He often gets overlooked, but as a coach he’s the kind of guy you like to have.’’