Jabrill Peppers purposely stepped aside to avoid blocking him. A Kent State returner called the tackle one of the hardest hits of his career. And one of his longtime teammates referred to him as a “stone wall.”
Meet Penn State’s 258-pound Joey Julius, the hardest-hitting kicker in college football.
“I would say he’s the hardest hitter on the team,” Nittany Lions defensive end Shareef Miller said.
Sure, maybe a laughing Miller was speaking tongue in cheek. But those hit by Julius say the kicker is no joke. Julius has twice gone viral this season by barreling downfield after kicking the ball off and brutally tackling the returner like an oversized linebacker.
First came his sideline-hugging hit against Kent State, followed by a tackle against No. 4 Michigan that made the Big House crowd of 110,319 collectively groan. He’s a 5-foot-10 redshirt sophomore with the physique of a bowling ball and the mindset of a wrecking ball.
“Never been hit by a kicker. Never been caught by a kicker, actually,” said Michigan returner Jourdan Lewis, whom Julius smacked in the above video. “In college I never knew that a kicker had the trigger in the hole. I thought he’d just stay back there for a safety valve, but he definitely didn’t care about that. He took his shot and made it.”
All-Americans around the country – such as LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Iowa’s Desmond King – reached out to offer Lewis their condolences and more likely to poke fun at the returner. Lewis was quick to point out that Peppers intentionally missed a block, that Lewis could have avoided the tackle, but even Michigan’s special-teams coach couldn’t fault Peppers for the move.
“I think it was a little bit of self-preservation mode,” assistant coach Jay Harbaugh said, adding that Julius might’ve prevented a touchdown. “I might have made the same decision.”
Julius’ Penn State teammates said – between smiles and laughs – that they had no idea their kicker could hit like that. But Julius’ high school coach and father both said they’ve seen this before.
In high school, Julius’ football coach promised the soccer coach he’d keep his star player safe. So Julius was under strict orders to boot the ball, then grab the tee and gingerly jog off the field. But, on one occasion when the ball hung in the air, Julius abandoned that plan and went charging like a bull at the opponent in red and white.
“He just went into him with his shoulder pads, very similar to what he did against Michigan,” said Julius’ father, Larry. “And the kid was down pretty hard. Everyone around us started saying, ‘Joey made the hit! Joey was the one who made the hit!’”
Kent State returner Kavious Price can’t forget about Julius’ hit either. Neither his teammates, nor the internet, will let him forget.
Price checked his Twitter account right after he stepped on the team bus after his postgame shower. After he had staggered backward several yards when Julius laid into him, he was immediately trending under the topic, “Penn State kicker leads the boom.” He just laughed.
“I’m still getting tagged in it almost every day,” Price said earlier this week. “From the looks of it, I would say it’s most definitely in my top two” of biggest hits.
— Kris Petersen (@GoPSUKris) September 3, 2016
“You can’t critique it. He was a stone wall,” Penn State linebacker Brandon Bell said with a smile. “You can say, ‘wrap up,’ but if the guy goes down, it doesn’t matter.”
Julius is less of a safety valve and more of an overgrown highlight reel. But that’s mostly by design. Penn State coach James Franklin said Wednesday night that he’s never believed in letting a kicker hang back because they’re normally not athletic enough to tackle a returner in space.
Of course, normally, the kicker doesn’t hit like a linebacker either. “We don’t necessarily need them to be Mike Singletary and knock a guy out,” Franklin said. “But if they do it, wonderful.”
Julius’ father said his son is taking his newfound fame in stride. But he’s not settling either. One person after another said this might not be the end of Julius’ big hits. There’s a chance this is only the beginning.
“Don’t be surprised if he does it again,” said Rob Klock, Julius’ high school coach. “In high school he was a soccer player, but he was probably more into it than most of the football players who played year-round. I loved him for that. He’s a competitor.”