April 18, 2023 // Diocese
From the Diocese to the Draft
Joe Tippmann Anchored by Faith, Humility
Joe Tippmann came running to the car.
The high school sophomore was holding something in his hand, an envelope given to him by then-Bishop Dwenger head football coach Chris Svarczkopf.
“Mom, look what I’ve got!” he said excitedly to his mother Kim, who was picking him up after practice. He opened the envelope and revealed an invitation to a football camp at the University of Wisconsin.
“From that day, he had a change of heart,” recalled Kim. “He began to put more time and effort into working out, lifting, doing speed and agility. Even after football practice, he would spend time doing extra stuff to better himself.”
“That was a big moment for me, seeing that from Wisconsin,” agreed Joe. “They were the first to start recruiting me. I pretty much hadn’t even heard of Wisconsin; I knew nothing of it. But I got invited to take a visit, and that’s when I started falling in love with the school and Wisconsin in general.”
All the hard work paid off for Joe, who became a three-year starter on Bishop Dwenger’s offensive line and helped lead the Saints to the 2018 Class 4A State Championship. He followed that with four years in Madison, Wisconsin, where he developed into one of the premier interior linemen in college football. Now, Joe is preparing to make the jump to the professional level, considered a can’t-miss prospect in the upcoming NFL draft. And yet, amid the ever-growing accolades and glamor of a pro football career, Joe remains the same person, anchored by his Catholic faith and an endless supply of humility.
He Was Unstoppable
Few will ever question where Joe got his “Big Joe” nickname. “He was born big,” said Kim. “He was always a head taller than all of his classmates.”
However, looking up at four older brothers meant that Joe was often on the losing end of sibling battles. “I was kind of the youngest, always getting picked on,” remembered Joe. “By the time I could beat them up, they didn’t want to fight anymore.”
Instead, Joe channeled this size and strength into a variety of sports as a kid. When basketball didn’t pan out, Joe credited his parents for helping him “find a love for offseason training,” which he considered a turning point for him as an athlete. He also found joy in football, thanks in part to Sam Talarico, who coached Joe at St. Charles Borromeo in Fort Wayne.
“Sam was a guy who was able to show me a love for football at a young age,” said Joe. “He was always one of my biggest supporters besides my parents. Nobody glorifies offensive lineman, but that’s what Coach Talarico was doing. I thank him for that.”
As soon as Joe stepped onto the field, Talarico knew he had a rare talent on his hands.
“In 7th grade, you could see how special Joe was from an athleticism standpoint,” said Talarico. “He moved very well for his size, and he was always very smart. In 8th grade, he was unstoppable. Joe frequently took it down a notch or two in practice because he didn’t want to hurt a younger or smaller kid. But in 8th grade, there was no other grade school lineman that could deal with his size and athleticism.”
Joe received similar praise from Jason Fabini, who coached him on the offensive line at both St. Charles and Bishop Dwenger — and who previously played in the NFL for 11 seasons.
“I’d been around a lot of football, and I could tell he was going to be special,” said Fabini. “He had the demeanor, the size, the attitude, the toughness — he had it all, he really did.”
However, Joe’s promising future wasn’t what stood out the most to his middle school coaches.
“The thing I remember most about Joe is that he treated every teammate and coach with respect at all times,” said Talarico. “I never saw Joe pick on a smaller teammate or insult a teammate. Joe was the type of kid who knew in his head he was the best, but he never acted like he knew he was the best.”
He Offered Me His Trust
As a freshman at Bishop Dwenger, Joe was reminded of a conversation he’d had two years earlier with Talarico.
“I remember vividly telling Joe in 7th grade by the drinking fountain on McKenna Field that he had the potential to be in the Big Ten someday,” recalled Talarico.
“Hearing that the first time, it was like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’” admitted Joe. “It didn’t become a reality until freshman year when Coach [John] Tone said the exact same thing. After hearing it a second time, I thought it might be possibility.”
That possibility became more tangible when Joe earned a starting spot on the line as a sophomore. He also re-dedicated himself to his schoolwork as he continued growing and developing into what Fabini referred to as “a dominant football player.” He was known to routinely plant defenders firmly on their back before sticking out his hand to help them back up to their feet — a move that Joe agreed summed up his approach to the game. “Between the whistles, I’m going to do everything I can to impose my will on this person,” explained Joe. “And when the whistle blows, I’ll help you up.”
When Svarczkopf retired after Joe’s junior season and Jason Garrett’s hiring was questioned by some, Joe stepped up with his fellow team captains to support his new coach, which Garrett said smoothed his transition and fortified their relationship.
“Those guys embraced me,” said Garrett. “They rallied around me, and the front person of that was Joe. Joe was a thousand percent behind my staff, and everyone else followed that. He offered me his trust; whether I had earned it or not, he freely gave it.”
“Being a private Catholic school, I think that makes a difference,” said Joe’s father John, who believed Dwenger’s Catholic identify helped Joe live out his faith. “I’ve always been a big supporter of Catholic schools, because they add all that extra stuff to support your faith and family life. I think that’s important with young kids growing up.”
Tabbed as a four-star recruit and described by Garrett as “the primary piece of that team,” Joe didn’t let his stature affect the way he treated those around him. Garrett loves telling the story of a freshman team manager who was new to the school and always sat by himself at lunch. One day, while Garrett was meeting with the managers, this young man spoke up.
“All of a sudden, he stands up and says, ‘Coach, you know who the nicest guy on the team is? Joe Tippmann. Coach, I don’t know anybody here, and I get made fun of all the time. The other day, Joe sits with me at the lunch table — and now everybody’s sitting with me at lunch!’” Garrett recounted with a laugh. “When your best player is also your best leader and one of your nicest guys, then you’ve got something special.”
Garrett also pointed to a couple key moments during the Saints’ state title run in 2018 that illustrated the depth of Joe’s character. Trailing at halftime of a rainy sectional championship at Wayne, Joe approached Garrett to ask if he and the other captains could address the team. Garrett relinquished this duty to Joe, who helped rally the Saints to victory. Two weeks later in the semi-state championship, Garrett tasked Joe with playing both ways on the line in order to stop Mishawaka’s potent rushing attack. He played “down in the mud, diving at ankles all night,” and helped hold the Cavemen to six points — nearly four touchdowns below their season average. The following week, with the state championship on the line, Garrett knew exactly what to do.
“On the last play of the season, I said on the headset, ‘Run the ball behind Joe. Put the ball in T.J. [Tippmann]’s hands and run behind Joe.’ All year, when we needed a yard, we knew where we were going. If you’re going to beat us, you’re going to have to beat our best player.”
Joe capped off his senior season by receiving the Indiana Mr. Football honor among offensive linemen. Several years after his graduation, Garrett and Fabini still point to Joe’s example when addressing current players about doing things the right way.
“We definitely use him,” said Fabini. “It makes kids realize, ‘He went from St. Charles to Bishop Dwenger, to Wisconsin, and now to the NFL — why can’t I?’”
From a High School Boy to a Man
When Joe stepped onto campus at the University of Wisconsin, he immediately realized the role that Catholic schooling had played on his spiritual formation, as well as the responsibility that now fell on him.
“I couldn’t really see that impact until I got to college, going from Catholic schools my entire life to a public university — from where everything is intertwined, to where everything is separated,” said Joe. “I had opportunities at Wisconsin, we had a team chaplain, and we were able to follow our faith. But that was kind of when all the stuff from high school and grade school that I learned and that had been instilled, now I had to do that on my own.”
Fortunately, one of Joe’s roommates was also Catholic, so they would often to go Mass together. He also benefitted from constant spiritual reminders from Garrett, mostly via text messaging.
“He will just randomly text Joe or call him and say, ‘Hope you’re having a great day, I’m praying for you, hope you’re going to church, have you been to confession?’” said Kim. “I love that he sends him those notes reminding him how important his faith is.”
“Coach Garrett as a person, as a man, has always been one of my biggest supporters, even after I stepped out of Dwenger,” said Joe. “I got a text from him before every game [at Wisconsin], and I tried to text him before [Bishop Dwenger] played. He always incorporates faith into everything, and I love him for that.”
Meanwhile, Joe continued to work his way towards taking the field for the Badgers. He knew coming in that Wisconsin doesn’t play or travel its freshmen lineman, so Joe spent his first year of college on the scout team, practicing his technique and trying to perfect it. He soon discovered that the area most in need of development was in his head.
“When I came to Wisconsin, physically, the changes weren’t that dramatic,” said Joe. “Mentally is what really changed for me: being able to slow down the game, understanding defenses, learning football schemes and how I want to attack it so the whole offensive line can be on the same page.”
John said he recognized this maturation in his son throughout his four years in Madison.
“You get about halfway in, and all of a sudden, you turn from a high school boy to a man,” said John. “He’s a very mature kid, and I think some of that is being the fifth boy in the family. He’s very independent; you can tell that he’s grown to be able to manage his own life, and he knows what he wants to do. This was his goal, and he’s put a lot of effort into it.”
That effort helped Joe see the field in two games as a redshirt freshman in 2020. The following fall, coaches asked Joe to switch from guard to starting center, a position he held for 23 games through his sophomore and junior seasons. Joe was named All-Big Ten Honorable Mention both years, only allowing a single sack as a junior. The constant for Joe through coaching changes and roster turnover was his Catholic faith and, in particular, his devotion to the patron saint of athletes, St. Sebastian.
“We learned the St. Sebastian prayer and prayed it every Friday before games in high school,” said Joe. “It’s just someone I’ve always held close to my heart. My grandma, as I graduated high school, gave me a St. Sebastian medal that I’ve worn every day since. Before every game, I’m able to sit there, put my head down, and pray the prayer to St. Sebastian. It’s something that’s always been able to calm me down. I probably pray it 15 times before each game.”
Still the Same Big Joe
At 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, Joe is a tantalizing prospect to NFL scouts. His combination of size, mobility, and explosiveness — as well as the versatility to play either center or guard — is uncommon, even at the professional level. Projected as a second-to-third round selection, Joe has spent the last few weeks flying all across the country to meet with NFL coaches. Although he’s received glowing reviews on his physical traits, football knowledge, and personality, Joe isn’t one to sing his own praises.
“I definitely do not enjoy it,” Joe said of promoting himself. “Especially with my parents, they raised me to be humble, so to go sit down and tell teams why they should draft me — it’s definitely an uncomfortable situation.”
This humility is just what Joe’s family, friends, teammates, and coaches have come to expect from him. It’s what they all know and love about him. It’s what makes Big Joe Big Joe.
“The kid won every award known to man, but at the end of the day, Joe is Joe. It never has changed him. If you talk to him today or back in high school, it’s the same kid — just in a body that just repped 225 pounds thirty times,” Garrett said with a chuckle.
“He’s such an easy kid to root for. He’s never let this all go to his head,” agreed Talarico. “The Big Joe we all knew at Bishop Dwenger is still the same Big Joe.”
The same Big Joe isn’t too proud to ask for help and advice. While he is poised to become the third Bishop Dwenger graduate to be selected in the NFL draft — alongside Fabini in 1998 and Tyler Eifert in 2013 — Joe has leaned on Fabini’s experience throughout his journey.
“If he wants my advice, he asks for it,” said Fabini, who said he has counseled Joe to work hard, avoid complacency, earn everything, and stay healthy. “We talk about the process and different connections we both have. I’m really proud of him. He just does everything right, and I think the world of him.”
“Coach Fabini has always been a great mentor,” said Joe. “He really helped me make the transition from high school to college and got me mentally prepared for it. He’s someone I always look to for advice, and having his support has really helped me along the way.”
Of course, Joe is the first to tell you that no one has supported him more than his own family. Regardless of what NFL team selects Joe, his parents and six siblings will travel to see him play as much as possible. Joe will be home to watch the draft unfold April 27-29, surrounded by those he loves most.
“I didn’t do this on my own,” said Joe. “The level of support I got from my parents, from my siblings — I didn’t have a single game [at Wisconsin] where a member of my family wasn’t there. Being able to sit down on draft night and enjoy time with them will be a magical moment for me.”
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