Leah Joseph isn't surprised to find herself working in the NFL. She'll admit a whirlwind journey that's seen her transition from working in collegiate volleyball to college football to the NFL in less than a year has been interesting. But surprising? Absolutely not.
Joseph, who joined the Jaguars in August of 2021 as General Manager Trent Baalke's assistant, is cut from football cloth.
Her father Bernard is a successful high school football coach in Alexandria, Virginia not far from Prince Georges County in Maryland where she grew up. The elder Joseph is notably the first black head coach in the history of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association which is a point of pride for Leah, especially as we celebrate Black History month and her dad played collegiately at Virginia Tech where he roomed with future Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith.
If that isn't enough to have ingrained football deep into Joseph's personality, her cousin Chase Young grew up on the same street and she's been a witness to his career through a storied high school career to Ohio State to the Washington Football Team.
"Football has been part of my life since the day I was born," she explained. "We just grew up with football, going to Washington games my entire childhood, that's what Sundays were. I always loved it. I always wanted to play it, never got the opportunity to do that. When I got started in athletics I knew that I wanted to at least try out what it would be like working in football and when I did it I was like; 'Yep…this is it.'"
Joseph played college volleyball at Georgia Southern and soon after graduation found herself working at her father's alma mater where she became the Director of Volleyball Operations. The self-described 'Hokie for life' wandered towards football on off-days to volunteer for her favorite team. It didn't take the football program long to see her talents and to offer her a job as the Director of On-Campus Recruiting. It didn't take her long to embrace the world of big-time college football.
"I just loved it," she recalled. "It was the craziest time, and I don't know if I just liked the craziness of it. It was right when campuses were re-opening in May and June for official visits. We had record numbers of visitors in May and June, and it was insane, absolutely zero sleep but I thrived in it and loved it."
Joseph didn't know it as she was grinding through the endless day's last summer, but they were preparing her for something bigger.
Thanks to a Joseph family friend and their extensive network in the football world her name came to the attention of Baalke. Suddenly the familiar world of Blacksburg, Virginia and Virginia Tech football was in her rear-view mirror as she raced down I-95 towards Jacksonville and the National Football League where a new administration was building a new program and endless days and long nights beckoned yet again.
Leah had to adjust to a pretty steep learning curve, the NFL is very different from college football, but once she had her feet on the ground she felt right at home in the personnel department.
The season was…well…it was tough and more of a roller coaster ride than many people who work in professional football will experience in an entire career. Joseph dug in and learned from Baalke and watched football from an entirely different perspective. At first, she survived but soon she was thriving working alongside the personnel department, trying to build a winner.
If it's possible the learning curve became even steeper in December as Baalke dove into the deepest and most comprehensive coaching search the Jaguars had conducted since they hired Tom Coughlin in February of 1994. Through a long list of interviews and exhaustive preparation, Joseph's NFL education continued at a breakneck pace through the announcement that Doug Pederson would be the next Head Coach of the Jaguars on February 5th.
"It was insane is what it was," she said with a laugh. "It was very crazy but my job, I really tried to focus on helping Trent be his best because it was a lot of work and a lot of stress to go through that process. He needed the space and the time to make good decisions and do everything he needed to do to get the right person."
All the while she didn't miss the chance to take in everything that was going on around her and to see where she was…in the NFL.
"I don't' know why but I always get that thought when I am crossing the Matthews Bridge and see the skyline of Jacksonville," Joseph said. "I've always wanted to live somewhere warm coming from Blacksburg and I'm like; "it is January it's 65 degrees and I'm sitting here and it's honestly surreal to think about where I am."
The more pressing question is where is she going? A talented young woman in an NFL personnel department, especially one as ambitious and with as strong a work ethic as Leah, has an opportunity that hasn't always existed for women in football. 33-year-old Catherine Raiche of the Eagles is believed to be the highest-ranking woman in a football organization and interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings for their General Manager job in January. That's a significant change Joseph understands that doors that were once closed are now wide open to her.
"Growing up I was always a leader, I just always wanted to be the first to be leading others, and everything I do I want to be earth-shattering and ground-breaking," offered Joseph. "I was raised to be out in front and I've learned that it opens the door for so many other people and I'm kind of fearless in that regard. I'm willing to be the first person to jump out there and show others that they can do it too. That's how I've always been."
Free agency is right around the corner which will afford Joseph the chance to learn more about the salary cap and building a roster with veteran players. Not too far down the road is April's NFL Draft and an entirely different level of time consumption and a never-ending to-do list as Baalke's team gears up for what is a pivotal moment for any franchise but especially one working to build around rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
"We have the combine coming up and free agency and the Draft," she said. "So, it's been head down grinding since the coach was hired but it's super exciting because there was none of this last year because of COVID. Having a whole new staff will be fun and I'm excited to see what it looks like and to be a part of the process, but my learning curve hasn't plateaued since I started which has been amazing."
It's every bit as exciting for the Joseph family back in Maryland as it is for Leah. Bernard and Leah's mother, Rhonda and brother Bernard are all in on the Jaguars. They'll obviously stay true to the Washington Football Team…Commanders…but they've added teal and black to their wardrobe. The family that introduced her to football is proud that she is in a moment, perhaps the moment she was born to be in.
"I truly believe that, that I am supposed to be here," she said. "The cards have fallen in place for me to be able to be here and to be able to stay here through everything has been going on. I literally have done three different jobs since last May and last May this isn't somewhere I would have told you I would be. "
Where she goes from here isn't entirely up to her but anyone who knows her will attest that she's ready for anything. The last 10 months have proven that.