Matt Joseph, a former linebacker for the University of Pittsburgh and a football coach for 20 years, remembers when he knew his son, Kobe, would be an athlete.
It was when a diapered Kobe sped hand-over-hand on the monkey bars. It was reinforced a few years later when Kobe was 7 years old and ran the length of the field for touchdowns in a peewee game.
“He was a wee little kid. They had to move him up from the 7-year-olds team to the 9-year-olds. He’s always been like that,” Matt Joseph said.
That wee boy now wears number 32 as a backup linebacker for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with aspirations to go pro. And even if he doesn’t make it, there’s always the Master of Business Administration he’s pursuing from UTC and the Harvard University bachelor of arts degree in human developmental and regenerative biology with a secondary major in economics.
Kobe Joseph entered the transfer portal early this year and has played in every game for the Mocs, except for the first one, when he was held out for a nagging knee injury.
For the next two seasons, Joseph said he plans to throw himself into football—something he couldn’t do at Harvard but can now with mostly online classes and more time.
Joseph grew up in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh and across the Ohio state line from Youngstown.
He lettered in three sports in high school and played both sides of the ball for the Sharpsville Blue Devils, scoring 30 touchdowns and rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a tailback in his final season while menacing opposing running backs from his linebacker position. He also played power forward on the basketball team at 6 foot 3 and excelled at the 110-meter hurdles.
“He’s humble. I bet he didn’t tell you he was an all-state hurdler,” said his mother, Suzanne Cisco, a heptathlete [seven events] at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and a career biology teacher and track coach.
“I used to joke that Kobe was hurdling before he was born because I was pregnant with him when I was coaching track,” she said.
Joseph spent this summer paying $1,400 a month to train at Exos fitness center near his mother’s home in Scottsdale, Arizona, under the tutelage of Mo Streety—the associate manager of youth football for the Los Angeles Rams. Cisco saw her son pack on 25 pounds of muscle in anticipation of UTC football and run under a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash.
Because of COVID-19, Joseph has two years of eligibility at UTC.
His mission is to impress NFL scouts at a 2025 pro day with his speed while carrying 240 pounds.
“That’s my mission,” he said of the NFL. “I don’t know how good I can be at football. I didn’t take it as seriously as I could have because Harvard is, it’s a bit of an academic brain drain. So here I wanted to put everything I had into it, just make sure I could be the best I could be.”
If the NFL dream dies, then he wants to be a consultant for a large biotech firm by using his business and science degrees. He scored 1510 on the SAT out of a maximum of 1600 and recorded a 3.5 GPA at Harvard, where he wrote in an elementary school essay that he wanted to go to college.
The Ivy League, which includes Harvard, does not permit graduate students on its athletic teams, so Joseph—a backup linebacker for the Crimson—transferred to UTC because he liked the way Chattanooga reminded him of his Pennsylvania hometown with its trees and undulating terrain.
Joseph, who plays with a knee brace because of a long-ago torn medial patellofemoral ligament, which holds the kneecap in place, has 10 tackles this season—including three for losses—and two quarterback sacks. If you want to know Joseph’s football stats, you have to look them up because he does not keep track of them.
During field day at his elementary school, Joseph was embarrassed because he had won every sports medal in his homeroom, his father recalled.
“He was a little uncomfortable with that; he didn’t like the attention. He’s a very humble kid,” said Matt Joseph, a retired chiropractor who lives at The Villages in central Florida. “He typically stays under the radar, but of course, as his dad, I’ve always thought he didn’t get the recognition he deserves, not only as a good athlete but as an excellent student and overall good human being.
“I don’t say these things lightly as his father. I’ve coached football for over 20 years at the college, high school, junior high and youth football levels and have seen many types of athletes as well as good, kind, humble, hard-working, intelligent people—but few that possess all of these traits as Kobe does.”
Added his mother: “Kobe is very humble, so I’m sure he was interesting to interview.”
Kobe Joseph, the quintessential aw-shucks guy who doesn’t give a flip about Chattanooga’s nightlife, is in bed by 9 or 10 most every night and takes naps every afternoon so he gets his nine hours of daily sleep. Monday through Thursday mornings, he’s up by 5, lifting weights by 5:30 and on the practice field for two and a half hours every morning. A former gymnast—which he said any future son of his will participate in—also works into his schedule twice-a-week yoga to maintain flexibility as he adds muscle.
At only 230 pounds, his thighs still look as thick and sturdy as the Eastern hemlock, Pennsylvania’s state tree.
He’s still getting used to being a scholarship football player (Harvard and the other Ivy League schools offer no athletic scholarships, only financial assistance based on need) and a full-fledged training staff and nutritionist with daily meals, as well as housing.
“They take care of me well here with everything,” Joseph said.
In his off-time, Joseph said he likes to play online chess against strangers and watch YouTube videos of the chess masters. There was a time when he considered attending medical school but knew he couldn’t play football while training as a physician.
“I’m blessed with a really good brain. School has come easy. I’m a good test taker,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m the best student, but I’ve always been pretty good at school.”