University of Florida

UF linebacker Vosean Joseph using memories of friends, hometown as motivation

Linebackers Jeremiah Moon (50), Cristian Garcia (43), Kylan Johnson (28) Vosean Joseph (11) and David Reese (33) take a selfie during media day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Wed., Aug. 2, 2017.
Linebackers Jeremiah Moon (50), Cristian Garcia (43), Kylan Johnson (28) Vosean Joseph (11) and David Reese (33) take a selfie during media day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Wed., Aug. 2, 2017. AP

Florida linebacker Vosean Joseph knows loss.

“Last night,” he wrote in a February Instagram post, “I found out that a person that I been down with since elementary was shot and killed.”

On Twitter, Joseph has #LongLiveBobby written in his header to commemorate the same death. It marked his fourth friend killed since he left his home in Miami Gardens for Gainesville. Or maybe it was the fifth. Joseph can’t remember.

That’s one reason Joseph left Miami Gardens for Gainesville. It was actually one of the biggest reasons.

“That was the bigger goal for me,” he said. “Just get outta Miami.”

He wanted to escape what he described as “gun violence, street problems, gang violence and stuff like that.”

Gainesville isn’t paradise, he said, but it’s better than his hometown, where the violent crime rate (6.3) is nearly twice the national median (3.8). And he’s hoping to make people remember his name in his new home starting on Saturday when the No. 17 Gators take on No. 11 Michigan at 3:30 p.m. in Arlington, Texas.

“Gainesville’s kinda quiet,” he said. “Everything’s kinda slow up here. But then again, it keeps you focused. I’d rather be up here than back at home where I’ve got problems and distractions.”

While memories of those problems make Joseph happy about where he is, he certainly does miss home. He also misses his glory days at Miami Norland.

As a starting linebacker for the Vikings, Joseph was rated a three-star recruit and had offers from Louisville, Arkansas and Alabama, among others. Going to a school that produced future NFL stars Dwayne Bowe, Antonio Brown and Duke Johnson, he still stood out. And he likes to regale his UF teammates with tales of those times.

“He always tells me stories about how it was in Miami, and what number he wore and all these things,” fellow linebacker David Reese said. “And how he played quarterback. I don’t know if I believe it, but that’s what he says.”

Those days were put behind him when he arrived at Florida, but after serving as a reserve for most of the season, Joseph made his mark against LSU. Specifically, he made a mark on LSU quarterback Danny Etling when he stonewalled him inches from the end zone.

From that point on, he was solidified as a force in UF’s linebacking corps. Fellow linebacker Jeremiah Moon agrees, saying the first word that comes to mind about Joseph is headhunter.

“[He’s] always trying to hit somebody hard,” Moon said. “He’s just made to hit.”

With UF losing two starting linebackers — Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone — to the NFL Draft, Joseph will lead a thin linebacking corps alongside Reese in 2017. He believes he’s ready for the challenge, and so do his teammates. Like Moon, running back Lamical Perine also describes Joseph as a hard hitter more than anything. But he said there’s more to it than that.

“He’s a hard hitter. Everybody knows that,” Perine said. “He’s matured a lot. He’s gonna be a good player for us this year.”

He’ll have to be for Florida to contend. The linebackers backing him up are thin on experience and got thinner when true freshmen Ventrell Miller and James Houston were suspended for Saturday’s season opener.

That’s fine with Joseph, who uses the string of deaths among his friends as motivation. It’s unfortunate, sure, but that’s all he can do.

“In the beginning, it hurt me bad,” he said of coping. “But at the end of the day, I know they’re watching over me and I’ve just gotta move on from that. Because at the end of the day, it happens so much down there to the point that you just get numb to it. Like you can’t cry no more.”

Using their memories as fuel for his future, he’s trying to stand out at UF. In doing so, he hopes to join the prestige of Bowe, Brown and Johnson. In other words, to become a guy future Norland players will brag about.

Anything less won’t be satisfactory, even if one of his biggest goals was to get out of Miami.

“It’s like, you made it, but you didn’t make it yet,” he said of coming to Gainesville. “You’ve still got stuff to do. Just look where you came from.”

Saturday: No. 17 Florida vs. No. 11 Michigan

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.; AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas.

TV/radio: ABC; WINZ 940.

Favorite: Michigan by  5 1/2.

Series: Michigan leads 3-0.

Florida injuries: Questionable — DB Quincy Lenton (hamstring); TE Kemore Gamble (foot). Out — DB C.J. McWilliams (hamstring); DB Marcell Harris (Achilles).

Michigan injuries: No reported injuries.