Late Pascagoula football father-son duo's love for each other wa - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Late Pascagoula football father-son duo's love for each other was unquestioned

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) -

When only half of the Pascagoula Panthers home crowd cheered following their team's touchdown in the third quarter Friday night, Donnis Harrison's happiness turned into confusion.

Pascagoula led its Jackson County rival Gautier 17-3, but the Panthers faithful became disinterested in the final score after hearing about a tragic accident involving two former Pascagoula High School football players.

"The only explanation I can compare it to is a Charlton Heston movie when the black cloud comes through the town," said Harrison. "It started in the stands and trickled down to the sidelines."

Most of the players and coaches, including Pascagoula head coach Lewis Sims, were unaware of the situation until after the game.

"Coach [Casey] Gilbert squatted down and put his head in his hands. I thought he was getting sick," Sims said. "I asked if he was all right, but that's when he said Keith and MJ were killed in a car wreck. I didn't believe him. I questioned it."

Keith Joseph Sr., and his son, Keith Joseph Jr., died Friday afternoon after being involved in a single-car accident near Leakesville. The father and son were traveling southbound on MS 57 in order to watch the Pascagoula-Gautier contest. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.

Keith Jr., also known as Marshean, or M.J., was earning a redshirt as a freshman on the Mississippi State football team. He initially started his high school playing days at Gautier High School before transferring to Pascagoula prior to his junior year.

He chose to attend college in Starkville due in large part to his father, who also graduated from Pascagoula. The elder Joseph played football for Mississippi State from 1989-92 and is currently 10th on the program's all-time sack list (14). 

Keith Sr. decided to leave Mississippi State prior to earning a degree and instead focus on preparing himself for the NFL Draft. However, he wasn't selected by an NFL team and was never able to continue his dream.

His future plans included returning to school to complete his degree and become a coach. Until that time, he made sure he did everything in his power to help Marshean to the next level and beyond.

"When you look at Keith and the amount of time he spent with his son, he guided M.J. trying to help him understand what pitfalls are out there so he could sidestep those," Sims said. "There are three [characteristics] that we tell our team: being a husband to your wife, a father to your children and having a purpose bigger than yourself. Senior understood those things and really helped reiterate those things to his own son and made our jobs easier."

"Keith saw me a couple weeks ago and told me he started to attend church and began reading the bible on a regular basis," Harrison said. "He was trying to get himself right in all sides of his life. Knowing Keith since the first grade, it was good to see someone mature in their life in the way he was."

Harrison declined to go into detail on what specific events led to his late friend's spiritual adjustment, but reiterated that he was proud to see a friend straighten out his life and begin to do the right thing.

The sudden deaths of Keith Sr. and Marshean triggered an overwhelming amount of support from not just the Mississippi State and Jackson County communities, but groups that would usually be considered a rival on the field. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze tweeted: "Tragic, awful news. God bless the JOSEPH family and everyone in the MSU program."

M.J. will never have a chance to challenge his father's impressive feats in the Mississippi State football record books. But Keith's greatest achievement will always be producing a son that worked hard, made good grades and treated everyone with respect.

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