If you’re looking for big plays at the safety position in the 2023 NFL Draft, look no further than Notre Dame’s Brandon Joseph.
He exploded onto the scene for Northwestern in 2020, securing 6 interceptions for a Wildcats team that exceeded expectations en route to a Big Ten championship appearance. His three seasons there saw him finish with a first-team All-American nomination and two All-Big Ten acknowledgements. Joseph headed to South Bend for what would be the last year of his collegiate career, playing a big role for the Fighting Irish secondary.
Joseph spoke with Windy City Gridiron about his experiences at both schools, his defensive versatility, his academics at two prestigious universities, and more.
JI: It feels like you’ve been on the NFL’s radar for quite some time now. How does it feel knowing your dream is just around the corner?
BJ: Man, it’s insane. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a little kid. It’s always been my dream to, to make it to the NFL. When you’re young, when you’re little it’s always far off. It’s an expectation that you never really know if it’s gonna come to you or not, so to be this close, it’s a true blessing. I’m super excited to see how this whole thing goes and plays out.
JI: You’ve had the chance to play for two great programs in Northwestern and Notre Dame. What did your time at both of those places do to help make you the player and man you are today?
BJ: Yeah, I think those universities show my character, show what were my intentions, where my priorities are. I take a lot of pride in academics and making sure that I’m surrounded by the best: the people that want to work the hardest, and the people that want to take risks every day. Going to those universities was definitely a big part of my character building and has helped make me who I am today. Alongside the academics, both [are] powerhouse football programs at the same time. Playing in the Big Ten was huge for me. We made it to the Big Ten championship my redshirt freshman year, [and] being able to play on that stage, that’s an opportunity I only would have had at Northwestern. I’ll forever be grateful for that and the platform that Northwestern gave me. Then, to enter the culture that they have at Notre Dame of wanting to win a national championship, and wanting to be the best in the country every single year, and the brand that Notre Dame has built for themselves, it’s been an honor, being at both these universities and playing football, alongside being a student at the same time.
JI: Like you said, they’re both great football programs and prestigious academic schools. How did you manage to balance all that workload?
BJ: It was really a big part of my transition to college and going to Northwestern and the whole program that Coach Fitz has over there. He preaches time management. He preaches making sure that you are in the right place at the right time, and that’s all what went into making me who I am. I learned those things at a really young age — in college, my freshman year — and it’ll really help you be able to balance that load, because it’s not easy. You got to make sure you’re doing everything. There’s no skipping class, making sure that your grades are are good. I think I learned a lot of those things early on in my college career, and I was able to balance that throughout my whole career.
JI: Your football IQ really sticks out to me on tape. Let’s say you’re lining up for a play in something like a two-high shell: what are some of the first things you’re looking at, pre-snap and right after the snap?
BJ: Yeah, like you said, there is a little bit of a similarity, I feel like, between the football IQ, and then the attention that it takes to be successful in the classroom. It’s just putting your effort into trying to really learn something. For that scenario, you talked about two-high — it’s Cover 2, it’s Cover 4 — it kind of depends on where my eyes are and what I’m reading. Basically, I’m thinking in a two-by-two formation and a two-high coverage, I’m really protecting deep inside. Number two, vertical. That’s what you take away first if you eliminate it, it leans [to the other]. I have a background being at quarterback and receiver, so I have the ability to read quarterbacks, understand progressions ,and understand route combinations, where they want to go. I think that’s part of the understanding the defense overall and having a good football IQ that allows me to make plays out there.
JI: I know you’ve been moved around quite a bit in both defensive systems. Can you speak to the importance of versatility and what needs to go into playing in so many different alignments?
BJ: Versatility is a huge part of my game and what makes a defensive back great: being able to be anywhere, being able to make an impact, wherever you are on the field, it’s a huge part of making a DB an elite DB. To do that, you got to really understand the playbook, because it’s like a puzzle out there. There’s different pieces of it, [and] you’re in a different piece doing a different job, having different responsibilities, and each piece of that. It’s really important to understand defenses, knowing exactly what you’re doing, knowing what’s going on around you, then move to these different areas of the field and perform at a high level.
JI: You’re a Texas guy, and I know high school football is basically like a religion down there. What was the experience like playing in that kind of environment at a young age?
BJ: It prepared me to want to be the best. Being down here in Texas, [there’s] elite competition. Everyone’s trying to live, breathe football. It’ll really make you work. I think I’ve had that competitive spirit since I was young that made me just want to win. My high school team actually won a state championship at AT&T [Stadium in Dallas]. To play in the state championship, being an underdog against a powerhouse Aledo team and getting the win out of that, I think just from a young age from me being in Texas, I always just wanted to win, win it all, win it big. That’s what went into me transferring to Notre Dame. I want to get back in the national championship conversation. I want to be working to win it all. I think it just really plays into my competitiveness, being in Texas and playing football here.
JI: Some of those high school stadiums are unbelievable.
BJ: It is insane, man. Allen [High School] specifically has a stadium that I’ve never seen before from another high school.
JI: How do you spend your free time outside of football?
BJ: Lately, man, it’s really just been football. I like to chill out with some of my guys, whether it was at Notre Dame or Northwestern, and then even some of these guys I’m in this pre-draft process, just kind of kicking it and chilling out with them, getting on the [Xbox] or something. When you’re up there in Illinois...if I was in Texas, I might have been outside, doing some more outdoorsy, fishing type stuff, but you know: up in Illinois, it’s kind of cold. It’ll keep you inside. It’s really just been football, and then relaxing inside, watching movies get on the game or something.
JI: There’s usually always a cool bond between draft prospects from the same class, especially at the same position.
BJ: Yeah, 100%. It was cool to connect with a lot of guys that you keep up with, that you watch that play in that elite level. I was at Exos in Dallas, so a lot of guys — a lot of elite DBs, specifically — we’re down there, working out together. It was cool for all of us to hang out, spend that time together and really work hard and try to chase our dreams together.
JI: What kind of video games do you play?
BJ: Some of these [Texas] A&M guys, Antonio Johnson, Jaylon Jones, we were all kicking it there. We like to play [NBA] 2K, Madden. It can get really competitive out there. That competitive spirit is definitely there when you get on the game, too.
JI: How often do you beat those guys?
BJ: I didn’t lose in 2K; I’ll say that. They got Madden, but I didn’t lose in 2K.
JI: Who’s your go-to in 2K? Are you repping a Texas team?
BJ: I like playing with the Mavs. I like playing with LeBron, it’s kind of cheating. I like playing with Steph, it’s kind of cheating.
JI: That Luka-Kyrie backcourt’s gotta be fun to play with in 2K.
BJ: Yeah, it was surprising to me when the Mavs didn’t make the playoffs, for sure.
JI: Let’s say I’m an NFL general manager. What would I be getting if I drafted you to my team?
BJ: Whatever team makes the decision to draft me, they’re gonna get a safety that is extremely intelligent and is going to know their job. I’m gonna know my job at all times, and I’m gonna be a leader in the back end. I’m gonna make sure that everyone on the defense knows that I have their back, and that I’m always going to be doing my responsibilities. Once all the pieces of the puzzle are in line, then I’m gonna be ready to make plays, and be ready to make a big impact on the team, as soon as I get there.
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