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MOUNT VERNON — No one is going to mistake Heritage Days with Mardi Gras.
In fact, you may not find more different locales than Mount Vernon and New Orleans, La.
The one common thread is that Cornell College’s defensive lineman Andrew Joseph calls both home.
Joseph will serve as a leader for the Rams this season, anchoring the defense with Maliek Ketchens as the top returning tacklers from a year ago. Cornell was seventh among 11 programs in the Midwest Conference preseason coaches’ poll.
Joseph had visited the campus when his older sister was enrolled at Cornell, helping her move in and attending her graduation. The community made an impact on him during those times, so once he decided to pursue college football he contacted the Rams’ coaches.
“When I got here, it was such a family atmosphere,” Joseph said during Wednesday’s team media day at Ash Park. “Everyone was so welcoming. The hospitality was just like southern hospitality. It’s kind of one of the biggest reasons I’m up here.”
The coaches couldn’t be happier to have the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder as a 2015 team captain. Even better than the second-team all-Midwest Conference honor from a year ago, is the personality and attitude that accompanies the physical talent.
“He is a great kid,” Cornell Coach Vince Brautigam said. “He’s a special kid, not only a football player, but off the field leads. He’s involved.”
Joseph’s involvement wasn’t restricted to football season. The senior biology major remained in Mount Vernon during the summer. serving as an intern for Cornell Professor of Biology Marty Condon.
The complexity of defensive schemes and reading offenses paled in comparison to laboratory work he performed over the break. He helped isolate and extract DNA from South American flies to sequence it and identify the species. He capitalized on the opportunity and was attracted to Cornell because of academics as well.
“Another reason I chose Cornell was the emphasis on the student-athlete part,” Joseph said. “You get to play sports, while being a student here.”
Joseph has high aspirations when he leaves Cornell. He plans to become a pediatrician, stemming from his experiences as a youth.
“I had a lot of service projects when I was in high school, working with mentally disabled kids,” said Joseph, whose maternal grandfather died from cancer when he was young. “The biggest thing everyone says I’m a big kid, so why not work with kids.”
The Rams will rely on his leadership this season. He is a two-year letterwinner and one of just five returning defensive starters. Joseph has embraced his role, calling it an honor to guide his inexperienced teammates.
“I’ve started for four years now,” Joseph said. “Coaches look up to me to guide this team and the young guys on how to move them into game play.”
Joseph tied for the conference lead with 14 1/2 sacks and finished second in the MWC with seven sacks. He had 58 total tackles last season, trailing only Ketchens, who had 73. Joseph has a knack for winning the line of scrimmage with 29 1/2 career tackles for loss.
All of that has come after a sophomore season shortened due to injury and the effects still present a year ago.
“Even last year he wasn’t at full-go,” Brautigam said. “I’d say he played at 80 percent at best.
“Now, he is at 100 percent. I think he worked really hard to be in the best shape.”
Quarterback Daniel Brown returns with more than 2,600 yards passing and rushing from last season, ranking second in the MWC with 264.1 yards per game. He said he would much rather have Joseph on his side than stare him down while under center.
“If I had to play somebody like A.J., just his enthusiasm throughout the game and practices is incredible, him having all that energy transfers to everybody else on the field,” Brown said. “I’m just glad that I can go up to him and he can give us a pep talk real quick. He’s always there to help.”
Defensive tackle Kody Capets, linebacker Austin McDonald and defensive back Stephen Ruiz are starters back from last year.
Joining Brown in the offensive lineup again are running back Devan Clark, who had 914 all-purpose yards including 512 rushing, wide receivers Gabriel Noyce and Riley Bell, linemen Christian Perez and Kevin Salazar and all-MWC tight end Charles Zilaitis.
Brown’s game management will be a key for the Rams success.
“He will be huge for us as a team, especially offensively,” Brautigam said. “His leadership will definitely make us average or good.”
The Rams lost all-around weapon Ben Knake, who graduated after being one of the top receivers and returners in program history.
“The nice thing is everybody else is back with game experience,” Brautigam said of the receivers. “Ben was kind of his safety net. It has made Daniel read the coverage and go through his progression more now than cutting off his progression and throwing to Ben.”
Brautigam said younger players have received more repetitions, providing much needed experience. The Rams have 54 players on their roster, so everyone will need to contribute during the season.
“We are probably more experienced than the front five,” Brautigam said. “We’re going to do things we can do well and kind of grow from there with the upfront kids.
They’ve done a great job so far. This has probably one of my better teams as far as energy, tempo and paying attention to detail. They’ve been a great group and hopefully that will continue.”
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