Kan Li / Scout

Just another adjustment for Gators' Joseph Putu

His life story has been chronicled now and as an African refugee camp survivor among many other life altering circumstances, Florida junior cornerback Joseph Putu is learning to adjust to life as an SEC football player. He’s doing just fine.

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His life has been constantly on the move since before he was even born. Joseph Putu came from a small junior college in North Dakota where he starred in his sophomore year hauling in 15 interceptions. But, things are now moving much more fast and furious for him.

"First couple days were kind of tough, but it's starting to move smooth now,” Putu told a large contingent of Florida media standing in front of Tuesday. “First practice was a lot of periods. I didn't know what was going on. I was just out there moving, filling in with the crowd and it went pretty good.

"I'm a spring ball behind and a Summer B behind, so I made sure I didn't come out of shape. That was a lot plus. Everything was fast. The players are faster, the receives know how to move better and every day I'm getting better."

For Putu, coming to play football at Florida is the realization of a dram, one that hasn’t quite sunk in.

"Nah, man, it hasn't hit me yet,” he said. “Probably that UMass game I'll be like, 'What the heck is going on?' I'm still waiting."


He has noticed quite a few of the perks he gets as a Florida player that he didn’t have in junior college. Gone are the days where he misses meals and has to work three jobs just to get by.

"The way we get treated, we get taken care of,” he said. “It surprised me. When I was in North Dakota during camp, I lost a lot of weight. When I got here I get weighed before practice and after practice I usually lose weight. And right after that I eat or they give me drinks and my weight goes right back up. That's shocking. And the stuff they give us, like the gear. I don't have to work anymore. I don't have hungry nights anymore. I'm just enjoying myself and having fun."

Putu actually picked the Gators without ever visiting them. He committed to Arkansas on the last weekend before signing day in February, then signed with Florida on signing day. He loves the choice he made.

“Yeah, I’m happy I’m loving it,” he said. “I’m glad I made the right choice. I’m learning from those guys ahead of me. They know what they’re doing, so every day at practice I’m getting better, everyday I’m getting used to the defense and I’m just out there having fun now, so I made the right choice.”

He has a ton to learn and it isn’t easy, but he is quite comfortable with having to deal with things that don’t come easy.

“It is, it’s kind of hard but, I’ve been through harder,” he said. “I think North Dakota was the hardest stage, like I had to get over there to get over here, so North Dakota was like the hardest stage. All I’ve got to do now is just building and listen to what the coaches say, because the coaches know what they’re doing and they’re going to get me where I want to go.”

In junior college he almost entirely played man coverage. His background didn’t lead him to much instruction about different techniques in the secondary, so that stuff he is learning on the fly. This is something that defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and defensive back coach Torrian Gray knew they were going to deal with when he arrived.

"I think I'm getting better,” said Putu. “I’ve got Coach Gray and Coach Collins. They gave me good technique. How to know when I have safety help inside, when I should play outside, when I should play man up, when I have no safety. Stuff like that is helping me a lot."

Putu also understands nothing is going to be given to him. He got that message when he was recruited when Collins showed up at his school rolled out the depth chart at Florida and told him he would likely get in the rotation as a junior and earn his way to a starting spot as a senior.

“It feels good, it’s not like he lied to me and said ‘If you come in you can start at corner, blah blah blah’,” Putu recalled of the conversation. “He said I can come in, put the work in, get into the rotation and I should be good. And now that going just right, I’m learning but I’m going to be out there for sure, cause of the way I’m working right now.”

His athletic ability and being a sponge for knowledge are what he calls his biggest strength.

“Best skills as a player….I would say my ball skills,” he said. “I’m coachable. Speed, I got speed, I got the length. But I’m still learning the position, because it’s my second year.”

It sometimes is like learning another language.

“I’ve just got to learn the scheme, cause my second year I got to know like the hash, where’s the ball at the hash, what route… Coach Gray has just been teaching me new stuff, like how to look at the ball inside if I’m on the boundary side,” he said as he was going through all of it in his head. “If they’re going to run an inside route, it’s like stuff like that, and when I have safety help, if I don’t have safety help, when to play outside. Like I didn’t know all that. And now I’m starting to get used to it and make my job easier.”

He’s getting help from teammates learning all of this stuff and they know they are going to need him with a roster that is very thin at the corner position.

"The whole DB group (is helping me),” he said. “Coach Collins, Coach Gray, Marcus, Duke, Quincy, Tabor, the whole starting lineup."

"They opened up to me and we're clicking just fine. Now I'm out there just having fun."

Those teammates have also been a bit fascinated with just how Putu managed to make it to Florida.

“I know Duke asked me a lot of questions,” he said. “Duke, Nick Washington, it’s just all cool guys. They know I’ve been through it. They said if I need anything to just let them know.”

He also knows there is plenty of talent in the secondary.

“We’re the same deal, same height, and they know, like Quincy and Teez, they know what they’re doing,” he said. “Like they know the route the receiver is gonna run before they run it. It’s a great thing coming up here, just looking at them in practice, getting some stuff from them that I can add on to my game.”

One thing he wasn’t actually prepared for was how hot it is in Florida.

 “Man, I cramp up,” he said. “I had a full body kit. A couple days ago, they had to put me on IVs, man.”

“I got in and they tested my blood. They said I was low on iron. So I take an iron pill every morning so I can gain energy to be out there. But I’ll be all right. I’ve just got to get used to the weather. It’s too hot.”

There are no personal goals this year in terms of stats. For him, he wants to do what he can to help the team and that just means learning everything and letting his athletic ability take over.

"My expectations are to come in, build into the system, learn the defensive system, learn from the older guys, get into the rotation and just have fun."

Sounds easy given everything he’s been through.










First game against UMass, going to hit you. How anxious?


“I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll be able to go to sleep, man. I don’t know. I hope that time will come. I can just fall asleep. I don’t know. I don’t think I’m going to be able to go to sleep. I won’t.”

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