Even as a kid, Juan Joseph liked to smile and crack jokes to lift others when they were down.
That’s how friends and relatives remembered the St. John the Baptist Parish football coach fatally shot outside a Baton Rouge nightclub early Sunday.
“He was always positive,” said Thaddeus Weber, a distant relative of Joseph. “It was a gift and a knack that most young people don’t have.”
Cars filled the parking lot on Sunday afternoon and spilled onto the grass at West St. John High School in Edgard, where nearly 200 people locked hands at an outdoor memorial service. Joseph, the 27-year-old quarterbacks coach at the school, was himself a graduate and a former team star. His brother, Dray Joseph, was a Southern University quarterback last season when the team won the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship.
Juan Joseph was leaving a nightclub at 4700 Bennington Avenue near College Drive with two other people about 2 a.m. when the group got into an argument with some other men riding in a car, said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a Baton Rouge police spokesman.
Someone in the car fired shots.
Joseph, who lived in Edgard, was taken to a hospital, where he later died. As of Sunday evening, no arrests had been made.
Weber remembered Joseph as a “loving family man,” recently married with a daughter at home and a second child expected the day after Thanksgiving.
“He would always ask how you were doing and how he could help you, not because it was the right thing to say, but because he genuinely cared about the people around him,” Weber said.
Amber Markey, 27, met Joseph in preschool and had remained close friends with him since.
She remembers once being upset in high school and crying in class, when Joseph peeked his head around her desk to lighten the mood.
“He looked over at me and said, ‘What’s wrong with the baby? Why’s the baby crying?’ ” Markey said. “And for some reason, we just both started laughing so hard.”
Darrell Morris befriended Joseph on his Little League baseball team at age 7 and blocked for him on West St. John’s 2003 and 2004 Class 2A State Championship squads.
“The biggest thing to me was how he progressed as a man,” Morris said. “He was shy and timid at first but became a leader on the field once he came into his own.”
After starring for the Rams, Joseph played at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. After his senior season at Millsaps in 2008, he won the Conerly Trophy, given to the top college football player in the state. He is the only player from a Division III school to win the Conerly Trophy.
The other finalists for the award that year were former Ole Miss offensive lineman Michael Oher, whose story was depicted in the movie “The Blind Side,” and Ole Miss defensive lineman Peria Jerry. Oher and Jerry were picked in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft.
Joseph finished his career at Millsaps with 9,295 passing yards and 87 touchdown passes. He was named Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year three years in a row.
As a senior, he led the team to an 11-1 record, the second-best season in school history.
In 2010, Joseph returned to his alma mater to join the team as a quarterbacks coach.
“It was priceless to have him around,” West St. John’s head coach Robert Valdez said. “He made us better.”
After turnovers or other mistakes during games, Joseph was a reliable, calming presence for the Rams, West St. John’s assistant coach Derek “Skip” LaMothe said.
“He was the kind of guy who could bring a community together,” he said. “It’s a big loss.”
After the service Sunday, several players sat together on the steel bleachers at Rudolph G. Dinvault Stadium and hung their heads. The Rams face their first playoff opponent Friday.
“It’s hard,” LaMothe said. “We’re just going to have to pick up the pieces and get through this.”
Advocate staff writer Rod Walker contributed to this report.