Southern’s Dray Joseph is crafting his own path

When he represented the Southern football team at Southwestern Athletic Conference media day last month, quarterback Dray Joseph may have been asked as many questions about his attire — a bright silver suit with a bow tie and pocket square — as he was his leadership skills or physical tools.

When he and his teammates moved into their dorm rooms at the start of fall camp, Joseph carried not an Xbox or PlayStation but “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

The senior’s haircut began as a mohawk but has grown into something harder to define.

“He sets his own path,” said West St. John coach Robert Valdez, who coached Joseph in high school. “He’s never been one to follow the crowd.”

Joseph stands out just as much on the field as off it. If you’re wondering why Southern enters 2013 with hopes of a memorable season, look no further than the 5-foot-11, 213-pound quarterback with the chiseled frame of a college linebacker.

Joseph completed 210 of 359 passes for a SWAC-best 2,511 yards as a junior last season, this after finishing preseason camp in a battle with J.P. Douglas for the starting job. Having that year under his belt makes you wonder whether Joseph’s best football is yet to come.

“I think, besides my stature, I have it all as a quarterback,” he said. “I’m trying to polish my footwork, but I think I have the arm strength to make all the throws those guys in the NFL make.”

Coaches and teammates say Joseph is taking on more of a leadership role this season, which is only natural considering he was battling for a starting job this time last year.

“I think you’ll see a comfort level,” coach Dawson Odums said. “I think you’ll see him look around and say finally he can drive this truck and take it where it needs to go.”

There may be times when Joseph is more the truck than the driver. Southern plans to operate more frequently out of the shotgun formation and turn often to the zone read, likely meaning more opportunities for the SWAC passing champ to tuck and run.

If they don’t wrap up, defenders may be embarrassed by a quarterback who benches more than 300 pounds and squats better than 400.

“He’s not the typical quarterback that will slide when they see somebody,” said junior defensive back Jaleel Richardson, Joseph’s roommate. “He doesn’t run from anybody. A lot of linebackers think a quarterback is going to be thinking slide first.

“They’re going to have another thing coming if they think he’s going to slide.”

Southern’s coaches may prefer a slide given the lack of experience behind their veteran signal-caller. But Joseph, as his muscular frame would suggest, has never had an issue with contact.

He played running back and defensive back in junior high and figured to continue on that course in high school. But the transfer of future Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Blaine Gautier from West St. John to Lutcher forced the Rams to explore other options.

“I honestly didn’t even want to play quarterback in high school,” Joseph said.

He went on to become a four-year starter, then signed with Southern as part of former coach Stump Mitchell’s first recruiting class. Three losing seasons followed.

“I think his motivation is, since he’s been here, he hasn’t had a winning season,” Odums said. “I think that drives him more than anything.”

Joseph has one more chance to help Southern get it right.

Coming off a breakthrough junior season, he could be coming into his own at just the right time.

“I see a fire in him,” Richardson said. “He knows what he has to go do, and he’s taking the necessary steps to get there.”