When junior Marcus Campbell suffered a season-ending knee injury this month, Jesse Joseph became Connecticut's most experienced defensive end. And Joseph is just a true sophomore.
Luckily, Joseph is more experienced than your average sophomore defensive linemen.
He started all 13 games last season, becoming the first true freshman to start on defense for Randy Edsall since the Huskies moved up to the FBS. He was thrust into a first-string role when Campbell was dismissed last summer for academics.
"I thought I'd get redshirted," Joseph said. "But then i got here and found myself practicing with the twos. I guess I stepped in and did pretty well for myself."
The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder has a little more maturity than the average college sophomore, too. He attended prep school in Montreal and turns 22 two days before UConn's season opener at Michigan. Joseph is from Montreal, but has dual citizenship; he also played football for a Philadelphia high school when his parents moved there for several years.
His Canadian school also produced current Huskies center Moe Petrus.
"Whether Moe was here or not, I believe I still would have come to UConn," Joseph said. "But it made me comfortable knowing he was here and that he liked it. I knew it was a good place."
Joseph is another diamond in the rough that Edsall and his staff uncovered. He said he didn't receive any other scholarship offers, though Akron and Wofford showed some interest. Virginia Tech called after he committed to UConn.
He had 38 tackles last season, including 2.5 sacks, and he forced a fumble in the Papajohns.com Bowl win against South Carolina. A shoulder injury kept him sidelined this spring, but Joseph said he spent the time improving his lower-body strength.
That strength will be important this season. Campbell was considered one of the team's best speed rushers. Senior Greg Lloyd was expected to move up to the defensive line, but he will redshirt while recovering from his own knee injury. That leaves another true sophomore, Trevardo Williams, starting opposite of Joseph, while redshirt sophomores Ted Jennings and A.J. Portee will be asked to take on bigger roles as their top backups.
"Losing Marcus, that hurts," Joseph said. "But I believe we have enough talent that we can step up and do just as good a job or better."
Spoken like a leader of the unit, which Joseph now unquestionably is.