KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WOOD) — “Prove them wrong, prove me right” is the mantra that Lions defensive back Kerby Joseph lives by.
“I keep the same mindset to go hard. I go hard every time,” Joseph said. “Last year, nobody really knew who I was. That’s been my life for real. Nobody really knew about me, but I gotta make my name known in the league, just gotta keep going and get better every day.”
The Lions defensive back had a breakout rookie season, with four interceptions — three of them coming against the former Packers quarterback and future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers.
After a season like that, it’s hard to believe the third-round draft pick was overlooked as a high school recruit out of Orlando.
“He was just a long kid, very athletic, great ball skills,” said Elijah Williams, who was Joseph’s coach at Jones High School. “Anytime you got those assets, you’ll be able to do something on the football field.”
But Joseph had little Division 1 interest.
Williams said Joseph committed to the University of South Florida his senior year, but the school pulled his offer on signing day.
“He didn’t sign. And then around 3 o’clock, Illinois called. And they said, ‘Hey, is Kerby Joseph available?’ And they said, ‘Will he do a blind sign?’ Which means he didn’t visit the campus, hadn’t really talked to the coaches, didn’t know anything about it,” Williams said. “And I called him and said, ‘Hey, Illinois just called, they offered you, and would you blind sign?’ And he said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.'”
Joseph took a leap of faith, joining Lovie Smith’s staff at Illinois, but in three seasons he never broke through with a starting role.
In 2021, Bret Bielema took over the program. That’s when Joseph’s career changed.
It all started with a visit to Aaron Henry’s office, who was the defensive backs’ coach at the time.
“He comes into my office, and like no bones about it, he says, ‘Coach, I’m trying to get to the league, man.’ And those were literally his words: ‘Coach, I’m trying to get to the league,'” Henry recalled. “And I’m like, ‘Bro, you haven’t even played here yet. How you going to get to the league? You haven’t even played here yet. Not even a significant role on defense yet.'”
But there was an unwavering confidence that Henry remembered.
“He always had energy. He always believed he was the best player on the field no matter who was out there, whether he was on the sideline or not,” Henry said. “And I think that’s a testament to who he is.”
And in October 2021, Joseph finally got his chance in Illinois’ game against Virginia. It was his first career interception.
“And that was when the legend of Kerby Joseph was literally born,” Henry said.
Joseph went on to lead the nation in interceptions his junior year, and he was drafted to the Lions in 2022.
“Once I got my opportunity, I was able to show my talents and my skills,” Joseph said. “All my life, people have been doubting me, and they ain’t really think I could do what I did. So I just prove them wrong and prove me right.”
On Thursday, Joseph will look to get the best of the league’s reigning MVP as the Lions and the Chiefs open the NFL season at Arrowhead Stadium.
WMU GRAD PLAYING FOR THE CHIEFS
The Lions will be put to the test early in the season, going against a high-powered offense and star-studded cast led by the Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes.
While there are a lot of big names on the Chiefs’ roster, West Michiganders may be more familiar with the name Skyy Moore.
There were flashes of the former Western Michigan wide receiver during his rookie season, which included his first career touchdown catch — which happened during the Super Bowl.
But the second-round draft pick is hungry for more.
Moore is expected to replace Juju Smith-Schuster and show this league what he can do.
“It definitely helped my confidence tremendously, you know, just knowing that I had a rollercoaster season,” Moore said. “And for me to leave the season on the high that I did, that gave me all the confidence to come back even better and keep the train rolling.”
Moore could see an even bigger role than expected: There’s been some speculation that Travis Kelce, one of Mahomes’ favorite targets, will not suit up for the Chiefs Thursday after hyperextending his knee during a practice earlier this week.