Southmoreland junior at home on field, farm
Following what he referred to as “a tough Thursday practice to prepare for a conference foe,” first-year Southmoreland coach Mark Adams said junior offensive/defensive lineman Joe Espey “challenged his teammates on the line to be ready. At 6 p.m., our practice ended and Joe took the line to his house for additional practice.”
Speaking matter-of-factly, Espey said he “just took the linemen to my house for some extra practice. We spent another hour or longer going over plays and everything else we should understand.”
By the time Espey's practice session ended in the vicinity of 8 p.m., he had put in a longer day than most, if not all, of his teammates and classmates. Living on what he said was a small Scottdale farm with a couple of small barns, his school day wake-up call is at 6 a.m., one-half hour later than in the summer.
Espey “is a top-of-the-line ballplayer; he is the essence of humble,” Adams continued. “He is a very humble young man. I love how he encourages other players.”
In his humble manner, Espey was low key about the extra practice time. While the extra session might have been out of the norm, having his teammates at his home was nothing unusual.
“All the linemen pretty much hang out at my house. My family owns a meat market, and the linemen all help with the animals. We feed the linemen good meat from the meat market. We have healthy linemen,” he said, chuckling.
Having served as an assistant at Southmoreland for two seasons before being named head coach this year, Adams sees in Espey a player who never shies away from a challenge.
Although Espey was sidelined the first week of this season against highly regarded Washington High School, for the second game he anchored the line that enabled the Scotties' running backs to gain more than 200 yards rushing.
At 5-foot-8, 230 pounds, “Joe may be slightly undersized when going against other players opposite him who may outweigh him by 20, 30 or 40 pounds or more, but he holds his own very well and never backs down, and he was not overwhelmed by the challenge of playing a team such as Washington High,” Adams said. “Last year against Charleroi, we watched him go to that next level as a player. When we watched the game film, we knew he would be a very good player by the time he is a senior. He is soft-spoken and always has a big smile. You won't hear him during practice, but you notice his hard work. He loves football.”
After seeing action as a reserve lineman during his freshman season, Espey started for the first time as a sophomore against another perennial power, Jeannette.
“When the game started, I was definitely nervous,” he recalled, “but as the game went on, I went with the flow and did what I learned. Considering that was my first start and it was against a tough opponent, my first game went pretty well.”
Incredibly strong for his size and definitely a player who is in shape, Adams noted, Espey benches more than 300 pounds and squats more than 450 pounds and has improved not only strength-wise but in terms of overall athletic ability.
“Joe is what a coach wants out of a football player,” Adams added. “He is a solid individual and leads by example. He wants to win and speaks up as one of our team leaders, especially on the line, where he makes sure the other linemen know what to do. He encourages other players to do their best. He is a two-way player who makes few, if any, mistakes. He is smart and retains what we teach him.”
While Espey is gaining recognition on the field, he has already received that attention off the field as a member of Extreme Stockman 4-H Club in New Alexandria, where he focuses on beef and pigs.
As soon as Espey's day begins at 5:30, he tends to his cattle, feeding the animals and making sure they are healthy and clean. He washes them nearly every day and walks them five times a week, 10 to 15 minutes each time.
“In the summer when my work with the animals ends, I go to football conditioning or practice when it begins, then I'm back home to work with the animals until around 9-9:30 at night,” he said. During school, his wake-up call comes at 6 a.m., then it's feeding his animals before he heads to school. After football, he feeds, brushes, and cleans the animals.
While Espey has not attained any all-conference honors so far, he is playing at an all-conference caliber this season, and Adams is sure the honors are on their way. But Espey's work with and dedication to his animals has already paid off. At the Westmoreland County Fair this summer, he produced one grand champion steer, winning best of show for his 1,340-pound cross-bred steer. In the heavyweight division, his 1,310-pound specimen received the reserve champion honor.
With honors in hand, Espey sold his animals at auction at the fair, with the money he received going toward the purchase and feed for animals for next year's fair and, of course, he laughed, some went directly to his savings account.
Espey sold two pigs at the fair, including a grand champion carcass pig and a reserve champion pig, noting that he has been showing his animals since he was 7, when he took his first pigs to the fair.
Good-looking quality animals bring the honors and bring the best prices at the fair and at auction, explained Espey, adding that he has been involved in 4-H programs since he was 8.
With his agricultural background, Espey is contemplating his post-secondary education, perhaps at Penn State, he said, to become involved with, naturally, agricultural programs.
Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.