Kendall Joseph played in the College Football Playoff each of the past three years, including in 2016, when he led Clemson with 2.5 tackles for loss in its win against Alabama.
He was Clemson’s second-leading tackler in 2016, then again this past season, despite missing a pair of games with an injury. The linebacker has aspirations of playing in the NFL and has dreams of winning a Super Bowl.
But nothing that Joseph has accomplished on the football field thus far, and nothing that he will achieve athletically in the future, will ever match a goal that Joseph fulfilled last month.
The Belton native, whose father is from Haiti, is the first person from his dad’s side of the family to graduate from college. On Dec. 21, dressed in a black cap and gown and an orange tie, Joseph walked across the stage of Littlejohn Coliseum. His degree in health science is now complete.
“Nothing compares to it. The national championship doesn’t compare to it. Nothing, athletically wise, compares to getting that degree, and that’s just being honest,” Joseph said. “That was an awesome feat for me and just for my family … Really nothing compares to that feeling.”
A BETTER LIFE
Simone Lorigene was living in Haiti with her husband and six children in 1985 when she decided she was ready to make a better life for her family.
Lorigene moved to the United States and brought her children over one at a time until the entire family was living together in Maryland.
Miguel Joseph, who is Kendall Joseph’s father, was one of the six children who moved to Maryland with his mother.
“It was a lot of transition going on politically, so it wasn’t safe being there,” Miguel Joseph recalled. “My parents were looking for a better life for us, and we moved to the United States. I came here when I was 15 years old. I didn’t speak any English.”
Lorigene worked long hours to provide for her children. She worked in a factory to make ends meet.
“My mom was a single parent, so she was always working in the plant just to provide for the six of us,” Miguel said. “They weren’t able to bring all of us all at once ... It split the family up at an early age.”
SETTLING IN THE UPSTATE
Adjusting to the culture in the United States and trying to learn English was tough.
Miguel Joseph did not graduate high school until he was nearly 21 years old and spent a year at a community college in Maryland before he was offered a soccer scholarship at Anderson College.
He spent three years at Anderson playing soccer and wrestling and met Kendall’s mom, Stephanie, during that time.
Kendall was a natural athlete and began playing soccer, T-ball and football as a young boy.
Eventually, Kendall became a football star at Belton-Honea Path High and earned scholarship offers from several Division I schools, including Clemson.
His parents have been by his side every step of the way, from T-ball in preschool until this past season with the Tigers. His father says he has not missed one of Kendall’s games since Little League.
“They’re my support team,” Kendall said. “My mom and dad (went) to every single game this year. They have a blast with it. I’m really close to both of them.”
Kendall Joseph came to Clemson on a football scholarship, but playing football is not why he came to Clemson.
“For me, I came here to get my degree,” he said.
He’d heard stories from his dad about how difficult school was for him and how much it would mean to see his son graduate.
“They were just trying to survive here, they weren’t thinking about (graduating) college,” Kendall said. “So for me to have my degree, that’s an inspiration on that side of the family. It’s just a lot. I can do a lot with that. I know football doesn’t last forever, so I take it very seriously.”
Kendall majored in health science and might go on to earn a master’s degree down the road. He is unsure of what he will do after his football career, but training athletes is an option.
Whatever he decides to do, his father has no doubt he will be successful.
“I am ecstatic about his accomplishment. It means a lot … I’m so proud of Kendall for graduating college,” Miguel said. “I’m not surprised, because he’s always worked hard. I’ve never allowed him to quit anything. I said quitting is not an option for him. He has always done his best, and that’s all we’ve ever asked of him is his best.”
Miguel now lives in Charlotte and owns a trucking business.
Even though he did not graduate from college, he did play a big role in his son’s decision to do so by sharing the challenges he faced.
“For somebody to push through that is very inspiring,” Kendall said. “Just the culture shock and the differences trying to adapt and learn, it was tough, but he did it.”
He is hoping he can now be an inspiration for family members on his dad’s side.
“Maybe that will continue down the line for my little cousins and stuff like that, maybe I can be an inspiration for them,” Kendall said.
Miguel and his siblings are now living the life their mother always envisioned for them.
They are enjoying the American dream.
“We all have families, a great life. We’re citizens, we work here ... It’s great,” Miguel said. “This is the land of the free, the land of opportunity. I came here for that opportunity and I’ve made the best of it.”