The rebirth of Vikings kicker Greg Joseph. His mental toughness has always helped him press on.
After a rough start to last season, Joseph has emerged as a secret weapon of sorts for the Vikings
There’s a particular field goal that defined last season for Vikings kicker Greg Joseph.
No, not the 37-yarder he pulled wide left as time expired in a Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. While that miss produced a ton of headlines in the immediate aftermath, a 43-yarder the following week told a more accurate story about Joseph.
Not only did Joseph drill that particular field goal, he finished 3 for 3 on field goals in a win over the Seattle Seahawks.
“That could’ve been make or break for me,” Joseph said. “That moment helped make me into the person I am today. That was an unbelievable learning experience. I tried to take the positives from it and move past it as best I could.”
The fact that Joseph, 28, is still the Vikings kicker speaks to his mental toughness.
On a team with a rabid fan base known to eat kickers alive — the rise and fall of Gary Anderson, Blair Walsh and Daniel Carlson all come to mind — Joseph somehow made it out on the other side. He finished 33 for 38 on field goals last season, and has developed into a secret weapon of sorts for the Vikings this season.
Asked about Joseph’s mental toughness, special-teams coordinator Matt Daniels referenced how much the Vikings tested him this offseason. They brought in rookie kicker Gabe Brkic during organized team activities to see how Joseph would respond to some internal competition. They also regularly blare game-like crowd noise and have Joseph’s teammates talk trash to him as he lines up for field goals in practice
“We’ve tried to put him in the most pressing situations,” Daniels said. “Every single time he’s answered the call.”
Not surprisingly, the Vikings have a ton of confidence in Joseph right now. He was 3 for 3 on field goals against Green Bay in Week 1 and didn’t attempt a field goal at Philadelphia in Week 2.
“All I know is when he hits the ball right now, it sounds really good, and normally, it’s going through the uprights,” Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell said. “When we’ve got confidence in a guy like we do in Greg, I think we can be aggressive trying to put points on the board anytime we really cross the 50-yard line. That’s going to be the mindset.”
Perhaps it is fitting that the Vikings play the Detroit Lions at noon Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Joseph was terrific in the first meeting with the Lions last season, making 4 of 5 field-goal attempts and capping his impressive day with a 54-yarder as the clock struck 0:00 that lifted the Vikings to a 19-17 victory and probably saved former coach Mike Zimmer’s job at the time.
Not bad considering Joseph almost never played football in the first place.
Growing up in South Africa, like so many other kids, Joseph’s first love was soccer. He says he doesn’t remember much about his childhood there, but the things he does remember all seem to be connected to soccer.
“It’s how I made all my friends,” Joseph said. “We were always playing.”
He had dreams of playing professionally for Manchester United even after he and his family moved to the United States.
It wasn’t until Joseph’s senior year at American Heritage High School in South Florida that he started to contemplate a future in football rather than soccer.
“My good friend played on the soccer team like me and he was also kicker on the football team,” Joseph said. “They asked me to do it after he left, and I was like, ‘Oh, cool.’ I wanted to see what it was all about. It sounded like fun.”
That was more than a decade ago. Doug Socha, the football coach at American Heritage at the time, remembers watching Joseph play soccer.
“What caught my eye about Greg was he always did the goal kick,” said Socha, who now serves as the football coach at Keiser University in South Florida. “He wasn’t the goalie and he always did the goal kick because his leg was so strong.”
After a summer working out with local kicking coach Tony Bugeja, who has trained a number of NFL kickers, Joseph slowly started to grasp the intricacies of being a kicker in football.
Just because he was hitting it far didn’t mean it was going where he wanted it to go.
“The sweet spot of the football is much, much smaller,” Joseph said. “Just getting my foot to strike the particular point on the football every time took a lot of practice. It takes a lot to hit it straight.”
Though it took Joseph some time to figure out the technique, his leg strength was never a question. He used to boom kickoffs out of the end zone with such regularity that American Heritage didn’t even have to coach kickoff coverage.
“If he wasn’t 100% on touchbacks, he was pretty darn close,” Socha said. “I’m not talking a couple of yards deep in the end zone; I’m talking almost through the uprights on a consistent basis. As he continued to do it for us, I think he recognized, ‘(Geez). I do have talent.’ I think he saw that he might be able to take it somewhere.”
Joseph also started to understand the importance of being mentally strong. That got put to the test during his freshman year at Florida Atlantic University when he failed to make the team as a walk-on.
Instead of feel sorry for himself, Joseph put his head down and went to work, something he has continued to do throughout his kicking career. He made the FAU team the following year and became the team’s No. 1 kicker the rest of his college career.
In a brief chat with the Pioneer Press last year, former FAU coach Charlie Partridge talked about taking over the program in 2014, and being surprised that Joseph didn’t make the team the previous year.
“He showed quickly that he was a legitimate Division I kicker with his leg strength and his mental strength,” said Partridge, now the defensive line coach at the University of Pittsburgh. “I did think he had the potential (at the next level) because I’ve been fortunate to be around guys who have had time in the NFL.”
That said, Joseph did not get selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, which once again tested his mental toughness, as did the journey that followed.
He bounced around from team to team, spending time with Miami, Cleveland, Carolina, Tennessee and Tampa Bay before latching on with the Vikings.
“All of it helped mold me into the man I am today,” Joseph said. “It’s a journey unique to me, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Lost in the shuffle, Joseph actually attended a workout that Vikings long snapper Andrew DePaola happened to attend, as well.
“Just the pop of the ball coming off his foot, I said right then, ‘That kid is going to be something special,’ ” DePaola said. “I’d equate it to hearing a base hit compared to a home run. You hear the crack of the bat and can tell immediately. It’s the same thing with kickers. You can just hear it.”
Nowadays, DePaola is the person snapping to punter Ryan Wright, who is the person holding for Joseph. Asked about the missed potential game-winner at Arizona last season, DePaola said he actually forgot it even happened because Joseph has been so consistent since then.
“He easily could’ve gone the other way after that miss,” DePaola said. “It’s no surprise he bounced back, though, because of the way he approaches things. He’s a guy who, make or miss, is on to the next kick.”
That’s an attitude Joseph has been working to perfect ever since he started playing football more than a decade ago. He has learned how to move on from a field goal whether he makes it or misses it.
All part of the mental toughness he has shown throughout his career to this point.
“I think kicking can be up to 85% mental,” Joseph said. “You have to have a short memory. It’s something I’ve learned as I’ve gone through my career. I feel like I’ve gotten better at knowing myself and who I am and staying true to who I am.”
As for the last-second miss against the Cardinals in 2021, Joseph knew deep down it wasn’t going to be an issue. He has gone through many ups and downs throughout his career and has always managed to overcome.
“It just came down to trusting myself and believing in my abilities and knowing I wasn’t defined by that miss,” Joseph said. “I knew I was a good kicker, so it was about moving on and proving myself the next time I got an opportunity to do so.”
This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.