Katley Joseph (right) of the University of Maine breaks up a pass intended for Villanova's Changa Hodge during their Oct. 6 game in Orono. Joseph burst onto the scene as a freshman to become a starter at cornerback this season. Credit: Courtesy of Peter Buehner

ORONO, Maine — Katley Joseph will have plenty of motivation on Saturday when the University of Maine plays Eastern Washington in the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals.

His grandmother’s funeral is this weekend.

“I know she would want me to go out and battle with my teammates. She would want me to keep chasing my dream,” Joseph said. “This game will mean a lot to me.”

UMaine (10-3), ranked 12th and seeded seventh, faces No. 4 Eastern Washington (11-2), the third seed, at 2 p.m. Saturday in Cheney, Washington.

Joseph played soccer until he was 11 years old. That’s when he realized he liked soccer, but didn’t love it.

So when people were going door-to-door in Ottawa, Ontario, handing out flyers trying to get youngsters to play football, it sparked his interest.

The eldest of his three older brothers, Farley, helped him sign up and made sure he had everything he needed including the proper equipment. Katley fell in love with the sport right away.

Now he is a starting cornerback as a true freshman for the University of Maine and has helped the Black Bears reach the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals for the first time ever.

Joseph is coming off the best game of his young career as he made four pass breakups and posted seven tackles, including two for loss, in last Friday’s 23-18 win over Weber State.

“I came out ready. I came out in savage mode,” Joseph said. “I knew I had to hold things down on my side of the field.”

“I trust him out there to make plays,” said Jeffrey DeVaughn, UMaine graduate student strong safety and co-captain.

“He has that next-play mentality. If he gets beat, he comes right back and doesn’t get beat again. I really love him for that,” DeVaughn said.

Joseph, who stands only 5-foot-9 and weighs 174 pounds, likely will be busy on Saturday because UMaine’s other cornerback is Manny Patterson, an All-Colonial Athletic Association first-team pick and an All-New England choice. Eastern Washington may decide it would have more success throwing to Joseph’s side of the field.

“He has been thrust into the role and has become a great complement to Manny,” UMaine senior co-captain Drew Belcher said. “He’s aggressive and is a more physical[-style] cornerback.”

Joseph (30 tackles) is second on the team with 12 pass breakups and has made an interception. He made three tackles and two pass breakups in the 55-27 FCS playoff win over Jacksonville State.

Joseph arrived at UMaine for the spring semester in January, and began attending classes and working out with the team.

“It was the best decision I could have made. I was able to learn the system,” he said. “I realized how fast the game is at the university level. It gave me a chance to know my teammates, and I was able to learn how to balance school and football.”

UMaine defensive backs coach Matt Birkett said the extra semester was crucial in Joseph’s ability to make the transition.

“He is becoming a technician so quickly. He has pretty good eye discipline, and he is pretty patient at the line of scrimmage,” Birkett said.

Joseph played running back and a little wide receiver until eighth grade when he decided to become a defensive back after watching highlights of Baltimore Ravens All-Pro safety Ed Reed.

“He was a great player. I had to see for myself how much fun it was, and I’ve loved it ever since,” Joseph said.

Joseph was a four-time Most Valuable Player and all-conference player at St. Matthew Catholic Secondary School before moving on to Canada Prep Academy, the same school attended by UMaine All-CAA offensive guard Liam Dobson, although they were not there at the same time.

The UMaine coaching staff discovered Joseph during a football camp at Rutgers University and subsequently offered him a scholarship.

He continues to gain confidence while playing on the Black Bears’ cohesive defensive unit.

“We are a tight-knit group on defense; we support each other. That gives me even more motivation to go out and do my job,” Joseph said.

He said the 2018 season has been an incredible ride after the team was picked to finish eighth in the CAA — but won the league title — and has won two FCS playoff games for the first time in program history.

“It’s crazy. We were the only ones who believed in us,” Joseph said.