FAU's Joseph uses his gifts to help team, family

It began when he was a young boy living in Fort Lauderdale, watching his mother weep over her inability to keep the lights on or get new shoes for her children.

"It is just a horrible feeling when you see your mother cry when she can't pay the bills or do what she wants for you. It leaves a bad feeling in you, and it builds up over the years," Florida Atlantic senior linebacker Frantz Joseph said.

It builds up until you are able to do something about it, and it is what drives Joseph now, as he heads into his final season at FAU, working to push the fledgling program even higher.

"I am determined to get whatever I have to get done to make her happy," Joseph said about his mother, Marie Clercius, an immigrant from Haiti who raised five children on her own.

That meant leaving Boston College after one year and coming back to South Florida. It meant joining a team with no history or tradition that went 2-9 the year Joseph arrived in 2005.

And it means now being a team leader, first by example, in the weight room during summer drills and in preseason camp.

And calling out slackers, pumping up the veterans, teaching the rookies.

That determination helped him set a team record with 131 tackles last season, and is why Joseph is the preseason Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year.

It is why NFL scouts have been watching practices during preseason camp, checking out the 6-foot-1, 229-pound Joseph as he blows up plays.

"He's tough, he's a leader. He means a lot to this team," coach Howard Schnellenberger said.

"I did all I could for him," Clercius said. "Now he is doing all he can for me."

Joseph's love for the game is evident in the high-wattage smile that is always on his face when he walks off the field after practice.

It's as if he has just gotten off the Space Mountain ride at Disney World rather than having spent nearly three hours dodging blocks while chasing down running backs.

"Oh, all of it," Joseph says when asked about what he likes about the game.

"The hitting, the running, the challenge presented on every snap. They want to beat you, you want to beat them."

Joseph's first appearance on the football field in high school was as a member of Dillard's band. But when he transferred to Fort Lauderdale after his freshman year, he quit the band and put on a helmet and that opened up the chance for a full scholarship to college.

"Any source to better myself I was going to take, and school was one of those and so was football," Joseph said.

It came down to Boston College and FAU, with the Owls losing out.

"There was a lot of pressure behind me, people talking about big time. I had never lived through it before, and I listened to them," Joseph said.

"I wanted to see what it was about."

It didn't take Joseph long to realized he had made a mistake. After his freshman year he transferred to FAU, where the Owls welcomed him.

"Coming back was a blessing for me. Playing the same level of competition, being near my mother, having the opportunity to get to the next level, it all fit," Joseph said.

Clercius had worked as a housekeeper at local hotels while Joseph was growing up, but health problems forced her to quit, and now she ekes out a living scouring second-hand stores for bargains that she then sells at a local flea market.

"I couldn't make it without Frantz," she says.

An older brother in the Navy sends her $400 a month, and Joseph supplements that with whatever he can. He is hoping his contributions will jump when he graduates, either with an NFL contract or through the business he plans to open.

Joseph has a double major of business management and marketing and is currently applying for a business tax identification number so he will be ready in case his football career does not go beyond this season.

"Seeing what my mother went through, and the opportunities she gave me, I am not taking anything for granted," Joseph said.

Football has taught him two important lessons.

"If you work hard it will pay off, and when times get hard, the strongest people will overcome adversity," Joseph said.

"Anything that happens to us, like two days ago the lights got cut off. My will is too strong to let anything get me down," Joseph said.

"He's a remarkable young man," said linebackers coach Kurt Van Valkenburgh. "He's exactly the kind of kid we built this program on."