West St. John football coach Robert Valdez needed to talk Wednesday. His heart was too full.
“But if you had called me Monday, it would have been a different story,” he said.
Monday was the day Valdez, the sixth year coach of the Rams, had to meet with his players in the morning to tell them that their beloved quarterbacks coach, Juan Joseph, had died over the weekend, shot to death in a senseless tragedy that has the tight-knit community of Edgard reeling.
Joseph, 27, a 2005 graduate of West St. John who helped lead the Rams to Class 2A state championships in 2003 and 2004 as their quarterback, was in his third year as a part-time coach at his alma mater. He had gone on to a stellar college career at Milsaps College, where he was a three-time Offensive Player of the Year in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. He finished his career 814 of 1,283 for 9,295 yards and 87 touchdowns in 38 games.
After his final season in 2008, he was awarded the Conerly Trophy, given annually to the top college football player in Mississippi. He is the only player from a Division III school ever to win the award, and beat out Ole Miss’ Michael Oher (of “The Blind Side” fame). Joseph later had brief stints with the Edmonton Eskimos and the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League, and with the Lafayette Wildcatters of the Southern Indoor Football League.
Then he came home, ready to help out his team, give a little back and to make Valdez’s life interesting.
“He was a prankster,” Valdez said of the young man who had become “like a brother.”
“He was professional,” he said. “When it was time for business, it was time for business. But he was always up to something.”
One of the coaches sent up to the press box for games to send information over the headsets, Joseph liked to taunt his boss from upstairs.
“He’d say, ‘Oooh, Coach. You should see the jambalaya they’re eating up here,’ ” Valdez said. “One time, they pretended the headsets weren’t working. I’d talk, they wouldn’t say nothing. I got another headset and I talked. They wouldn’t say nothing. Finally I told them, ‘I know these things cost a lot of money so they better be working.’
“He was always the one ready to laugh, to make a joke, to try to lighten the situation, you know?”
So it comes as no surprise to Valdez that Joseph died trying to be a peacemaker.
According to police reports, Joseph was walking toward his car Saturday night outside a Baton Rouge nightclub with two other men when they got into an argument with two men driving by in a car. According to accounts, Joseph was trying to diffuse the argument when one of the men got out of the car and shot Joseph in the torso. He later died of his wounds at a Baton Rouge area hospital, leaving behind a wife, a young daughter and another baby on the way.
“I just want to do everything I can to make sure that everybody knows that Juan was a great guy and we don’t want him to be judged or characterized as someone who was out at 2 o’clock in the morning, causing trouble,” Valdez said. “I think everybody’s seeing that he was being true to his character. He was being a peacemaker in the situation. He was trying to diffuse the situation. He was trying to say, ‘Hey guys. Let’s all calm down.’ ”
And now the Rams have to try to move on without him. After a bye week in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs, No. 3 seed West St. John will host No. 14 Varnado on Friday night in the regional round. A brief memorial service, including a balloon release and a moment of silence, will be held to honor Joseph before the game and the team will wear black wrist bands and helmet decals. Joseph’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday.
“Everybody is still walking around in a haze,” Valdez said. “Football practice has been their escape. That’s the only place where everything makes sense, where things are almost normal.”
But Valdez said he has had a difficult time concentrating on football this week.
“I feel like I’m cheating,” he said. “I feel like I have to sneak to watch game film. I have to sneak to work on the game plan. It’s like, I’m not supposed to be doing these things because of the momentousness of what happened. I know it’s going to be hard on me Friday when he’d be on the other end of the headsets, cause, he’d be the one to pick me up in situations like this. But, we’ll get through it. I know we will.”