Jermaine Kearse looked down from his exalted platform perch. Reporters from across the nation, Latin America and Europe were standing two-deep in a semicircle below him.
And the kid from Lakewood just smiled.
“Yeah,” Kearse said Sunday inside a tent at the Arizona Grand Resort. “It’s just a blessing.”
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Less than three years ago no NFL team wanted him. At least not enough to bother drafting the former Lakes High School and University of Washington star.
Exactly 253 players got selected in the 2012 NFL draft. Only a few are here at this Super Bowl. Fewer still from that draft class – teammates Russell Wilson, Robert Turbin, Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, J.R. Sweezy, Jeremy Lane – have made the last two Super Bowls.
By the end of the 2013 season, the Seahawks’ undrafted free-agent wide receiver was receiving the key to the City of Lakewood after catching touchdown passes in the NFC championship game and in Super Bowl 48.
By Sunday, Kearse was one of only six Seahawks selected to speak on behalf of the team upon its arrival at Super Bowl 49.
No wonder. His streak of playoff games with a touchdown catch is now at four. That’s following his 35-yard grab in overtime from Russell Wilson that beat Green Bay and sent the Seahawks into this Super Bowl next Sunday against New England at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“Just going undrafted and working my way just to get on this team is a huge blessing,” Kearse said in his typically understated tone. “To represent my team and my family and my friends right here, I am really going to enjoy it.”
His mother Angelika is already enjoying it. She’s been hoarding every copy she can find of the most recent Sports Illustrated below. It’s the one with her son on the cover securing the catch just ahead of desperate Packers cornerback Tramon Williams last week that sent the Pacific Northwest into seismic celebrations – and Seattle back to the Super Bowl.
“I’m pretty sure she cleared out (the Lakewood) Albertson’s,” Kearse said with a shy grin.
Kearse’s father David passed away suddenly in the summer of 2007, one night after feeling light-headed as Jermaine packed for a football camp at UW. His passing made Jermaine grow up more quickly for his younger brother Jamaal, who followed him to Washington. They played on the same Huskies team in 2011.
Dad has been looking down proudly ever since
The Seahawks arrived here on a 75-degree day in the desert motoring on buses through a crowd of cheering, sign-waving “12th Man” fans chanting “SEA! HAWKS!” on the corner of Baseline Road and their resort’s entrance drive.
Kearse has arrived, too. As a star.
“Yeah, I think he has,” Wilson said.
Kearse literally arrived with Wilson years ago, at Seattle’s first minicamp in the spring of 2012. Wilson was then a third-round draft pick supposedly too short and buried on the depth chart behind veterans Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson.
Kearse? He was just trying to get practice reps on special teams, let alone make the Seahawks.
The rookies worked out together for days, weeks, months. Before and after practices. On off days. Always.
That bond has endured. When Wilson is scrambling, extending plays in his dangerously improvisational way Sunday against the Patriots, Kearse is to whom he will be looking to throw.
“You talkin’ about Jermaine Kearse?” Wilson said playfully Sunday. “Free agent. Came in the same class as me. Just was lights out in rookie minicamp. Just been lights out ever since.
“I love playing with him. I hope I can play with him for a very, very long time.
“He’s just got this mentality, man, that he’s relentless. He’s got this composure about him that I love, truly love about him. … To watch him, on the cover of Sports Illustrated making that winning catch – hopefully he can make another one here this week.”
Even though he’s now a cover boy, though he was a headlining interview subject at the Super Bowl, Kearse has some grounding agents working on him back in Lakewood.
“My friends back home, they are always giving me crap,” he said. “They do a good job of keeping me level-headed.”