There aren’t many players left on the Washington football team who were a part of 2008's winless season, but senior Jermaine Kearse was, and he has been an integral part in helping Husky fans forget about it.
With humble beginnings, Kearse climbed the ladder of youth football.
“I actually played quarterback in the fifth grade,” Kearse said. “I think I threw the ball once, just to see what it felt like.”
But Kearse’s real ability was in running. It was clear he had a talent for it as he got older, earning positions on both the basketball and track team in high school.
An outstanding athlete, Kearse took second in the triple jump (45 feet, 6.5 inches) and was part of a third-place 4x100 relay team at the state championship meet as a junior in 2007.
Kearse also averaged 15 points per game in basketball and led Lakes High School to the state championship game; earning a selection to play in the Cloud 9 Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association All-State game.
But something pulled Kearse to the sport of football.
“All my friends were playing football,” Kearse said. “I didn’t want to be the guy who wasn’t playing.”
Football, of course, became Kearse’s bread and butter.
“I remember watching him his junior year,” said his mother, Angelika Kearse. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s really my child.'"
His success on the field earned Kearse the attention of several football recruiting sites, including Scout.com, which ranked him the No. 4 recruit in the state, the No. 32 receiver in the nation and the No. 180 prospect in the country.
Not bad for a kid who just wanted to be cool with his friends.
However, the Kearse family was to endure a tragedy. One that would define Kearse as a man and as an athlete.
“Back in 2007, [Jermaine's] father passed away and [Jermaine and brother Jamaal] were supposed to do a UW combine or camp, and his father passed away on Saturday and we got up Sunday morning and we went back and finished the camp because that was what his father wanted us to do,” Angelika said.
In an amazing show of strength and commitment, Kearse and his family appeared that Sunday to complete his commitment to attend the camp and honor his father’s memory.
“He just continued to play football and didn’t let that tragic moment stop him from playing,“ Angelika said.
Soon after, Kearse began looking at his collegiate options.
“When I came back (from recruiting visits), I talked with my high school coach,” Kearse said. “And we just talked about the pros and cons of going to such places and we both felt that, after talking about it and re-discussing it, that Washington was the best place for me.”
Much to the delight of Husky fans, Kearse continued his dedication to his goals and commitments long after that decision and quickly made a name for himself on the team.
“If Jermaine sets a goal for himself he usually succeeds,” Angelika said. “He has very high expectations for himself."
And Kearse has yet to disappoint.
What would normally make the average person stop in their tracks keeps Kearse surging forward and in many cases inspires him.
“The adrenalin,” Kearse said. “70,00 to 80,000 people watching. The crowd noise, the pressure; I like that.”
UW has enjoyed Kearse’s talent for several years, and luckily Kearse has enjoyed UW too.
“I love playing here,” said Kearse. “The coaching staff is great. I like the style of offense that we run and I feel that it fits me. And I feel like playing here is going to help me improve my game.”
But it isn’t all fun and games especially when balancing sociology classes with an intense athletic schedule.
“Its kind of hard,” Kearse said. “Coming home after practice you’re tired, you just want to lay there, but then you know you’ve got that assignment that’s due tomorrow. You just have to know how to manage your time well.”
Kearse has shown resiliency worthy of his athletic reputation. Unless, of course, he’s sleepy.
“If he’s hungry or tired he gets really cranky,” Angelika laughed. “Feed him or let him sleep? All is good.”
Despite this minor personality flaw, Kearse has flourished and is now recognized as a leader on the team.
However, when asked about his position as a leader, he immediately gives a very modest response and starts to emphasize the amazing leadership of new quarterback Keith Price instead.
“Keith’s been doing a great job being a leader,” said Kearse. “He has stepped up big time. I feel like he’s a senior out here with the way he’s leading everyone.”
This camaraderie stemmed not only from the two players being on the same team, but started when Kearse hosted Price when he came for his official visit to the Washington campus. This connection has only made the duo stronger both on and off the field.
“Keith and I have been pretty good friends since he got here,” Kearse said. “Our chemistry is there.”
That chemistry has shown itself quite clearly on the gridiron, with Kearse catching four touchdowns in four games, while showing no sign of slowing down.
“My ultimate goal is to go the Rose Bowl,” Kearse said, something the Huskies haven’t achieved since 2001.
With Kearse’s determination and experience on the field, the Dawgs have something to be excited about, and a great athlete to be proud of.
Maiah Hollander is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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