By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
Brandon Joiner has a bowl game left to play in and a college diploma still to receive.
After that, the Arkansas State senior defensive end faces more jail time and he's okay with that, too.
"I understand I have to pay those consequences," Joiner said. "I look at it differently, now. It's no longer punishment for me ... It's a growing experience. If I have to go back to jail after I graduate, well then I can learn from that."
Joiner, after a standout prep career at Shoemaker, was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery in December 2007, during his freshman year at Texas A&M.
He spent a week in Brazos County jail, thinking which of two paths he would take next: his current life or the other one, the life he could still lead.
"I could be in jail right now, I could be dead right now doing those things, but He (God) blessed me with another day," Joiner said.
After spending two years at Navarro College upon his release from jail and the Aggies football team, Joiner has flourished in his second year at Arkansas State.
The senior was voted the Sun Belt Conference defensive player of the year last week and led the Red Wolves to a 10-2 season, an undefeated run to the Sun Belt title and a GoDaddy.com Bowl date against North Illinois on Jan. 8 in Mobile, Ala.
"I'm going to be honest with you, I didn't really accomplish anything," Joiner said. "God was just working through not just me, but through my teammates and my coaches. He just decided to truly bless us. I can't put it in any words, He just decided to show his face to us and this university and this city. I'm just honored to be an instrument that He used."
For the Red Wolves defense, Joiner has been an instrument of havoc.
Picked to be a second- and third-team all-conference player in the preseason by leading college football magazines, Joiner went on to set them all straight, showing why he was the No. 26 weakside defensive prospect in the country coming out of Shoemaker in 2007.
He posted a conference-leading 12 sacks this season, including four against Louisiana-Lafayette to tie an ASU and Sun Belt record.
That was what he was supposed to be doing at Texas A&M if not for Nov. 29, 2007.
According to police reports, Joiner, who was redshirted by the Aggies that season, and a former A&M teammate, Yemi Babalola, tied and mugged a drug dealer at gunpoint in his College Station apartment.
The investigation led to searches of both suspects' homes, where drugs - marijuana, ecstasy and hydrocodone - and other evidence were found, according to the police statement.
"I was an average kid, full of mischief, trying to get into mischief and sometimes things that are bad, you think are fun at the time because you don't really look at the bigger picture," Joiner said. "Everything happens for a reason. I'm glad nobody got hurt, I'm glad everybody's OK and everything like that, but God has really flipped that whole incident and made me see things in a different way."
His time in jail led to his decision to change the direction his life was headed and has been reinforced every day since.
Joiner received deferred adjudication probation for one of the charges and the other was dropped to just robbery, but his sentence for that has yet to be completely carried out.
He's twice been back to the Brazos County jail to serve 20-day stints and has another still be completed. And after graduation, he could face two more years in jail.
"I talk to kids a lot of time, teenagers, younger kids, just about decisions they make and how they can affect their life," Joiner said. "I've told them my story because I can give a testimony and I'm proud to share it. ... I'm not proud of it, but I'm not ashamed, definitely not ashamed of it."
Joiner said he has come to terms with what he'd done, but getting to that point where he was no longer ashamed took time, years in fact.
It was during his second year at Navarro that his peace finally set in, maybe because that was the year the Bulldogs split a two-game series with eventual junior college national champion Blinn College. Both finished with identical 11-1 records.
However, Blinn, who was led by current Carolina Panther quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, got to play for the national title. Navarro went on to beat Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in the CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl in Copperas Cove.
"The fact that we didn't get to go there (the junior college national championship), doesn't mean we didn't work hard and didn't deserve to go there, it shows you that sometimes life is unfair," Joiner said. "There's going to be adversity in life at all times, no matter what level you're on, no matter how happy you are, no matter how sad you are, there's going to be adversity in life ... (and) you can either give up or you can press on."
So that's what Joiner did with the shame of his bad decision two years earlier with a little bit of help and encouragement from his mother.
"She used to keep wearing my jersey that said 'Brandon Joiner's Mom.' I was just like, 'Man, she's not ashamed of me?,'" Joiner said. "Over the years, she just kept telling me, it's going to be okay, it's going to be okay ... I feel like my second year at Navarro, before I got up here, was when I really said, 'You know what, that is what I did but that is not who I am.'
"All that other stuff, I can overcome that."
Contact Kevin Posival at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7562.