Well, if this story doesn't inspire you, you're a rather hopeless cynic. Take a look at this amazing video on the athletic career of one Carl Joseph, who has just been nominated for the Florida Sports Hall of Fame. Joseph, who grew up in poverty on a tobacco farm in north Florida, was born with only one leg, but went on to become an eight-time letterman in high school sports and play college football. He did it without a prosthesis of any kind, relying only on his one good leg and a pretty damned big heart. I got the opportunity to talk with him recently, and that interview, along with the video, is after the jump.
Where did you grow up, and how did you become interested in sports? I was born in Madison, Florida, which is just east of Tallahassee. I was raised by a single mom, who had 10 kids; five boys and five girls. I was number four, but the oldest son. We were poor country people; no recreation for kids or anything, so we played street football. The kids all knew me so me having one leg was just normal to them. What were your limitations athletically? I didn't have any. I usually played with kids older than me, and I had to keep up. We'd play football, baseball, and jump over fences and climb trees. I was like anyone else and nobody treated me different. What sport did you first play competitively? Seventh grade basketball. The coach was also my PE teacher, so he knew me and knew I could play. One of the first things I did in practice was stand underneath the basket and jump up and touch the rim. Did you ever doubt your ability? Ever get depressed and want to quit? Never! Not one doubt. It kind of worked to my advantage, sometimes. The first time we played a team, the other players would kind of stare, and I'd go right by them. I remember other coaches yelling at their players "Get him, get him! Stop gazing at him!" What sports did you play in high school? Football, basketball and track. I won the district in the high jump at 5-8, and threw the shot 40 feet and a 130 discus.
How did your high school football coach react to you on the first day of practice? He was concerned for my safety, you might say. But after two games he realized I was capable, and I started the third game and never looked back. I made the varsity in the 10th grade. Why did you decide not to wear a prosthesis? It just slowed me down. When I was a kid I just hopped a lot; that's what felt comfortable. I'd been doing it since I was a kid and I wasn't going to change. The game that stands out the most for you? When we played Brooks County, Georgia, my senior year, They were big for high school players; 6-4, 6-5, 250 to 280 pounds. We averaged maybe 185 on the line. They looked at us and just laughed. 'Look at those little guys!' And that's the game I made all the tackles. I had 11 tackles, an interception, and blocked a kick. And that's with them double-teaming me the whole game. Did you often get double-teamed? Always. If they had scouted us. What position did you play at Bethune-Cookman? Middle linebacker. We had some excellent teams; in 1984 we won our conference championship. Lee Williams, who went on to play for the Chargers, he was on that team. Dewey Forte (Miami Dolphins), Mike Revell (Dallas Cowboys), John Bostic (KC Chiefs) were also teammates. What do you think of today's NFL players? What's your reaction when Terrell Owens complains about not getting the ball? Football is not based on individuals; it's a team game and a team effort. Everyone should remember that. That's what I tell my players. You're a coach now? I returned to Bethune-Cookman and coached there until 1991. Now I coach at Jefferson County High School in Tallahassee, where I live. I'm the defensive coordinator. What do you tell players who are down on themselves, or seem to lack confidence or drive? You can do whatever you want to do when your mind is determined. What can stop you? My momma taught me that. You see, she did not have pity on me; she treated me like everyone else. I was not exempt; if I didn't do my chores, I got a whuppin'. She told me I was no different from anyone. And think that was the difference. I owe it all to her. How big is your own family? I have eight girls and one son. I live in Tallahassee, and sing with the gospel group Elder Carl Joseph & The Spiritual Tru-Tones. My faith was always very important to me. It still is. Any advice for high school players who may have a football playoff game this weekend? How big is your heart? That's the most important thing.