A Freaking find
Rookie Kearse just keeps coming and coming and ...
Posted: Tuesday January 11, 2000 11:05 AM
Jevon Kearse became a dominant defensive force for the Titans with 50 tackles and 14.5 sacks. Scott Halleran/Allsport
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Jevon Kearse sits, he doesn't so much take over a chair as leak out of it. He is all elbows and knees, this NFL rookie wonder, all long legs and arms and huge hands that just keep coming at you.
By the way: Those are some incredibly big hands that Kearse has. They are hands that swallow. They are hands that already are the talk of the NFL, and someday could be bronzed into league lore right alongside Johnny Unitas' hightops and Joe Namath's fu manchu.
Right now, though, it is not Kearse's hands that stand out as much as the rest of his impressive self -- the body, the baggy jeans and T-shirt, the dazzling smile and all the outright politeness.
This season has been a history-making coming-out party for the most exciting defensive player to hit the league in years. And Kearse, who has lived a life that has put people close to him in prison or in the grave, is moving through it with the grace and good sense of someone much older and wiser.
Jevon Kearse, the Tennessee Titans' all-everything rookie defensive end, is a 23-year-old who appreciates what he has because he knows where he's been.
"I do a lot of praying to the man above," he says, clasping those huge hands of his and breaking out in a head-shaking smile. "Everything is just working out great. I don't even think, really, it's hit me yet. I'm getting sacks and breaking records ..."
And, in February, he'll be a rookie in the Pro Bowl, something he laughs at -- he's truly incredulous -- when it's mentioned.
"I mean, I'm thinking 'Aww, how am I gonna top this?'"
Right now, Kearse doesn't have to worry about anything but playing for the Titans, who are in their first postseason since they were the Houston Oilers in 1993. On the field, the biggest worry he's had is how to handle the increasing number of double-teams he faces. Off the field, he has handled an avalanche of requests from fans and media better, even, than he has dealt with the league's offensive linemen.
Kearse spent two hours before a recent home game sitting in a plastic chair in an electronics store on the outskirts of Nashville signing autographs for fans. Most NFL players would rather punch Orlando Brown in the eye than do that.
Kearse didn't get up to stretch. He didn't turn down anyone. When his cell phone rang, he stopped only to punch a button to activate his headset, leaving his hands free to sign.
"This is for the people. This is for the fans," he says, and somehow out of him, it doesn't sound like so much PR. "I'm going to do whatever I can to give them their money's worth."
Kearse -- he gladly answers to "The Freak," and even calls himself that -- set an NFL rookie record and led the AFC with 14.5 sacks this season. For a guy picked 16th overall, it turned out to be a pretty good return on the Titans' investment.
On Draft Day, as Kearse slid down the board -- at around 250 pounds, many teams thought him too light to play the defensive line -- Titans general manager Floyd Reese wanted to get him so badly he called up Tampa Bay GM Rich McKay to offer a trade.
The Buccaneers were picking one spot ahead of the Titans.
"I said 'Richie, I'll trade you a seventh right now, just to get your spot, just to make sure I get the guy I want, 'cause I think you're going to take an offensive lineman,'" Reese recalled. "And he said, 'No, I'm going to take a defensive lineman.' And I went 'Awwww. Who are you going to take?'
"And he says '[Louisiana State tackle Anthony] McFarland!'
"So I say," and here, Reese pauses for effect .... "'OK. Good bye!'"
Kearse's speed has blown away opponents, and his overall athletic ability has stunned everyone. There is an increasing trade on stories about the former Florida star, each one more incredible than the next.
There's the one about, when going through tests for scouts, he jumped and pushed up a panel in the ceiling. A 12-foot ceiling. There's one about him chasing down speedy wideout Chris Sanders in camp. (The Titans receivers, in fact, say they won't race the 6-foot-4 Kearse, who claims to have run a sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash.)
There's a story about Kearse in camp, doing a drill where lineman are supposed to hit a blocking sled, then run downfield to grab an orange cone and return. Kearse grabbed all the cones before any of his teammates could get one.
He embarrassed St. Louis tackle Fred Miller in a win over the Rams, forcing Miller into at least five jumps and one holding penalty.
The stories go on and on.
|Making Them Pay|
Titans DE Jevon Kearse fell to No. 16 in the '99 NFL Draft.
||Started 14 G, threw 15 TDs
||Started 6, QB of future
||Clear starter in '00
||Pro Bowl, rushing leader
||Injuries hurt Heisman winner
||52 catches, 6 TDs
||Five INTs, 1 TD return
||40 catches, 2 TDs
||Starter, 66 tackles, 3 FR
||Starter, 47 tackles, 5 INTs
||Third-string, limited play
||7 starts, QB of future
||61 catches, 714 yards
||Started five games at LT
||14 tackles, one sack
||Pro Bowl, rookie sack record
The fact that Kearse has made it this far is pretty amazing, given his tough upbringing. His father was shot and killed before he was born, he has had a brother, an uncle, a cousin, his grandfather ... all who died by the gun. His older brother now sits in a Florida jail, convicted of armed robbery.
Kearse has worked his whole life trying to steer clear of the troubles that have engulfed his family. He has used football as his way, and he attacks the game and the preparations for it like few other rookies do.
"It's what coaches tell me the whole game. Just keep coming," he says smiling. "I'm going to keep coming."
Coaches, too, are blown away by Kearse's ability, though they are quick to point out he has plenty of room to improve. His success this season has been based almost solely on his athletic ability -- he simply beats blockers with his speed.
When Kearse adds more weight -- he hopes to play around 265 pounds next season -- and improves on his technique, when he starts to recognize tendencies and game situations ... well, no one knows quite what to expect.
Not even "The Freak."
"The more success I keep having, the more I keep getting, the more teams are going to prepare for me," he says. "Being a rookie, coming in and seeing all the things I've been seeing and still having that success -- teams preparing for me is going to prepare me for the years to come."
Kearse unfolds himself out of the chair and the only thing you can think is this: No way can anybody prepare for this guy.
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