Only one other arena gets Jermaine Kearse nearly as amped up as the one he performs in – Husky Stadium – snatching spiraling Jake Locker passes for big plays at the University of Washington.
Mixed martial arts fans – like Kearse – know it well. It’s home to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, also a Saturday night smackdown.
Whenever a UFC card is on the horizon, Kearse is the one doing the planning, says Huskies teammate Mason Foster.
“Every time the fights are on,” Foster said, “Jermaine is ordering the fight, or we’re going to somebody’s house to watch it.”
Bullish light heavyweight Quinton “Rampage” Jackson used to be the draw.
Now, Kearse’s favorite fighter is Anderson “Spider” Silva, the reigning UFC middleweight king.
“Always liked Spider,” Kearse said. “He’s good. He’s mastered his trade.”
Some say Kearse, a Lakes High School product in his junior season at Washington, is close to doing the same.
Kearse’s breakthrough season in 2009 included team-bests in all receiving categories – receptions (50), yards (866) and touchdowns (eight), leading to a second-team all-Pacific 10 Conference nod.
This offseason, Kearse – solidly put together in his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame – has taken the necessary steps to build on that impressive campaign. He has the look of a go-to receiver. He acts like it. He wants to be that guy.
“He wants to win every play, and has the perfect mentality for a football player,” said Dave Miller, his former coach at Lakes. “The best thing, you could give him the Heisman Trophy tonight, and he’d be the first one in the weight room in the morning.”
Not until the third game of last season – specifically the final clinching drive – did UW coaches realize what they had in Kearse.
Kearse took the crunch, but held the pass from Locker on a key 21-yard reception on third-and-13 early in the series. Then his 19-yard reception along the right sideline set up Erik Folk’s game-winning 22-yard field goal in the Huskies’ 16-13 upset over then-No. 3 Southern California.
“From that point on, we kind of had to step back and re-evaulate Jermaine as a player, and a playmaker,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “In turn, that gave him the boost of confidence that he can get back in the role of being that (go-to) guy, and I don’t think he’s looked back since.”
Quiet strength accompanies that boundless ability – something he’s carried with him throughout his formative years.
He’s needed it, too, for a tragic time in his childhood.
Kearse was set to attend the Air 7 passing camp at UW in the summer of 2007, two months before the start of his senior year of high school.
His father, David, had been feeling light-headed, and went to Providence/St. Peter Hospital in Lacey for overnight tests.
The next morning, as Kearse was leaving the house to drive to Seattle, he got a call. His father had died.
On the suggestion of his mother, Angelika, Kearse went back to the passing camp the day after the life-changing event.
“She told me my dad would want me to go,” Kearse said.
To this day, Kearse says he owes a lot to his mother – and his stepmother, Suny Kearse – for helping him get through that difficult period.
“It helped me be stronger for my little brother (Jamaal), because he had a lot harder time,” Kearse said. “It definitely helped me grow up, pretty much.”
UW teammates might not have been aware of the situation. Kearse rarely spoke of it after he arrived at college.
“I really didn’t know too much about it when he came. He was just another guy who was pretty cool,” Foster said. “After his sophomore year, we started hanging out a lot more … on the weekends. Then he told me, and that’s when I realized how much he’s been through.
“It’s a tribute to how strong he is, and how passionate he is for the game. He comes out week in and week out with no stutter in his performance.”
Calm has returned to the family, too. Last year, his mother married Mac Duberry, like his father a U.S. Army veteran.
“They’re both sports guys,” Kearse said. “Mac is always at our games, and at Husky things. He’s cool. I’m happy with anybody who treats my mom right, and takes care of her. He’s done that.”
With all the talk surrounding Locker going to the NFL, Kearse, too, might be on that track someday. Miller calls him the most complete receiver he’s ever coached, and that list includes former Lakes and UW standout Reggie Williams, a 2004 first-round NFL pick by Jacksonville.
The idea certainly intrigues Kearse, but other goals are more immediate and consuming – like getting to a bowl game.
“I let things happen. You control the things you can control,” Kearse said. “God has blessed me with a lot of opportunities to be successful in life, and I’m focusing on doing what I can for the team. If the option to play in the NFL comes, I will be very happy – then. Right now, a Rose Bowl is at the top of the list.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 email@example.com