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South's Josephson gives it his all

In many ways, Justin Josephson perfectly sums up the South Medford High defense.

At first glance, there’s no real reason for concern due to small stature and happy-go-lucky ways.

Then the football is put in play and, all of a sudden, you find yourself not going anywhere easily and can’t quite figure out why.

While you’re stuck in your tracks, there stands a smiling Josephson, a defensive end who simply won’t give up and routinely pushes much larger players to their limits.

“I’m not the biggest guy by any means,” said the 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior. “I just kind of play with all I can, trying to do as much as I can, and it just gets itself done.”

The same could be said for the Panthers’ defense overall, which leads the Southwest Conference in total defense at only 293 yards allowed per game and scoring defense at 18.6 points per game entering Friday night's game against North Medford at Spiegelberg Stadium.

“Honestly, that doesn’t surprise me one bit considering the past few years we’ve always been a pretty dominant defense in the conference and even in the state,” said Josephson upon learning South’s defensive standing. “I think it’s just from the energy that we have and our willingness to fly around to the ball no matter where it is and just lay the pads.”

A great deal of that energy stems from the pure effort of Josephson, who was a first-team all-SWC defensive lineman a year ago and has been a key contributor again this season despite added attention from blockers.

Josephson is joined by seniors Nate Krupp and Nathan Rohrs on South’s front line in the trenches, with help from junior Charlie Campbell.

“He plays relentless,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler of Josephson. “He’s playing hard and fast every snap, and that’s about what he has to do because he certainly isn’t the biggest guy in the world. We always talk about beating people to the punch on the line and being the first guy to impact the guy across from you, and he does that.”

For Singler, Josephson emulates exactly why kids should give football a chance. While it may be easier when you’re the biggest and tallest person in your class, it doesn’t mean you can’t compete if you’re undersized so long as you play with a purpose.

“JJ’s just a small little high school football player that gets a lot out of it,” said the coach. “I think last year he caught people by surprise because nobody really knew about him, but this year more teams are paying attention to him. It’s a little tougher sledding for him but he’s certainly doing a great job. He’s been a major factor in our defense, and especially our defensive play last week against Grants Pass, which was outstanding.”

In last week’s 19-14 win over the Cavemen, the Panthers held Grants Pass 134 yards below its average offensive output and to less than half its scoring average. During the contest, Josephson forced a fumble that was recovered by senior linebacker James Duane and allowed South Medford’s Luke Allen to kick a 22-yard field goal to end the first half with a 10-7 advantage.

“James had him turned just right so his shoulders were facing me,” said Josephson, “and I just put my shoulder right on the bottom of the ball and it just came flying out. It was perfect.”

The extra effort also allowed for a moment in the spotlight for a group that doesn’t always garner the same stadium-wide attention of their offensive brothers but bears no grudges.

“I’m not jealous of those guys at all, not at all,” said Josephson of South’s offensive stars. “I think sacks for me are as equal to a touchdown, if not better. Plus with a forced fumble, I can do all of the things that an offensive guy can do and get as much fame as them. I’ve just got to put my head down and grind.”

That matter-of-fact attitude is what helped Josephson set his course on a far different path than he expected, but one that has been extremely rewarding. He was a rarely used cornerback playing behind the likes of standout senior Austin Boster when he decided to move to the trenches, following in the footsteps of his father RJ Josephson, who was a defensive standout at Eagle Point High and Southern Oregon University.

“I was like, all right, I’m just going to play some D-line like my dad,” said the 17-year-old standout. “I kind of found my little niche I’d say and I do pretty well there.”

RJ Josephson was an all-state linebacker in 1995 when the Eagles finished as the state runner-up. As a nose guard at SOU, he went on to an all-conference career that has him third in school history with 27 1/2 sacks from 1996-99.

“He wasn’t the biggest either but he just used his speed mainly and that’s kind of what I do,” said Josephson of his father, who now is a Medford police officer.

“He definitely gives me a ton of pointers on some finesse moves and stuff like that and moves to put on the O-linemen,” he added. “He gives me little tips on pre-snap adjustments I can do and stuff like that that’s really helped out a lot.”

Josephson also inherited an uncanny strength for someone his size, which has caught more than a few opponents off guard.

“It happens all the time,” Josephson said of being overlooked. “I’ll see a 320-pound offensive lineman and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to lay on this kid,’ and then all of a sudden they’re laying flat on their stomach, literally on the ground, when they don’t even touch me. Then they’re like, ‘What just happened?’ and it’s kind of all just uplifting for me.”

That’s not to say Josephson wins every battle. His is a position filled with few clean victories amid a host of muddy mixups.

“Some plays you get hit and lit up but you’ve just got to come back the next play and forget about it,” said Josephson. “You have a short memory and come back the next play and make a play, that’s all there is to it.”

“That’s like every one of us,” he added of his defensive brothers at South. “We’re all here to ball out, we’re not here to just lay down for anyone. We’re just going to keep balling, no matter who we’re playing or how much we’re up or down. We don’t give up. We’re just going to keep pursuing our goal.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth’s Justin Josephson