From small-school Dubuque comes the best story at the NFL Combine

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Joseph has one of the best stories at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he sure was happy to tell it Sunday.

North squad cornerback Michael Joseph of Dubuque in action during the North teams practice for Saturday's Senior Bowl college football game in Mobile, Ala.,Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018.

The kid who entered high school in suburban Chicago standing 5-foot-2 and weighing 92 pounds, who never started a single football game in four years there, was the last man standing during media interviews at the Indiana Convention Center, surrounded by a handful of reporters who had a hard time believing what they were hearing.


Joseph kept smiling and patiently explained over and over how someone from the University of Dubuque got onto the radar of NFL scouts. The cornerback is the only Division III prospect competing at the Combine.

“I feel like I’ve got to make sure that I’m representing other Division III players,” Joseph said at the outset of his interview session. “I feel like if I succeed, then it also opens the door for other Division III players to play in the NFL.”

Joseph’s story is a testament to the importance of not giving up on an impossible dream. An athlete not good enough or big enough to play in high school has no college football options. Joseph quickly found that out.

He headed to Dubuque even though, at 150 pounds, he was told he was too small to play football even at college’s smallest level. Joseph’s cousin, Bridget Hosley, had been a track star at the university, so he enrolled and got busy studying. And growing.

In the spring of his freshman year, Joseph tried out for the football team again and this time earned a spot on the scout squad. By his sophomore year, he was starting at cornerback.

His junior season was so successful that a Chicago Bears scout came over to check Joseph’s time in the 40-yard dash. It was 4.46 seconds. Word got out. Other NFL teams started coming around.

Joseph had eight interceptions as a senior, good enough to get invited to the Senior Bowl, where he proved he could hold his own against the nation’s best players.

And that led Joseph to Indianapolis, where he measured in at 6 feet, ½ inch and 187 pounds. NFL teams want to see him get his weight into the low 190s, Joseph said, still with the perpetual smile. But mostly they want to see if he can repeat that 4.46 40 time. He’ll get that chance Monday morning here.

“Coming from a small level, they want to make sure that you have the speed to bump to the next level,” Joseph said.

“I feel like I showed my entire college career that I have the ability to take the ball away from offenses.”

Joseph said he had two interviews lined up with NFL teams Sunday evening — the Buccaneers and the Seahawks. He is a near-lock to be drafted.

His incredible rise is the stuff of movies. And Joseph knows it.

“I think about it just about every day,” he said. “That’s what helps me wake up every day and go to workouts. That’s what helped push me through tough times and remember where I came from.

“I know that this isn’t the end of the road, just the beginning.”