Catching Air

Nov. 12, 2009

By Todd Dybas

His freshman year at Lakes, Jermaine Kearse told his mom not to bother buying football cleats.

Kearse was focused on basketball, initially deciding he didn't want to play football.

But he 'came to his senses,' joining the freshmen team at Lakes High. By the time Kearse was a junior, he was an emerging football star. Now, Husky fans are happy Kearse decided on a new pair of cleats that year.

The sophomore leads the Huskies in receiving yards and touchdowns, and is second in receptions. His two high-handed touchdowns last Saturday at UCLA helped the Huskies stay in it on the road.

The elevated grab is becoming Kearse's trademark play, Jake Locker having plenty of confidence throwing it to the 6-foot-2, 198-pound playmaker even if he appears covered. Typically, this is referred to as a 50-50 ball. Not in Kearse's case.

'We feel like it's more than 50-50 right now,' wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty said. 'It's more like 70-30. He's doing a heck of a job right now.'

Kearse has little definitive explanation for his ability to make grabs on balls lofted his way. He gives Locker credit for usually throwing the ball where only Kearse can make a play on it. His former life as a basketball player helps with body control and leaping ability, Kearse is still able to dunk but not able to cite his vertical leap. Kearse's timing is just there.

'It's a weird feeling,' Kearse said. 'Something I have a feel for and it happens to go my way a lot.'

Earlier in the year, things were not going Kearse's way. Particularly in fall camp. Kearse made occasional plays, not consistent ones. It cut his playing time. But he refocused himself in practice, forcing the coaching staff to figure out how to get him on the field more. They started by putting him in the slot, then moving him outside. These Saturdays, he moves around a lot and is rarely off the field.

'He is a young player,' Dougherty reminds. 'That was part of it early on. He did have some struggles, especially in fall camp. To his credit, he dug himself out of it and he competed every day.

'He was up in my office (Wednesday) and he said, 'I'm excited about practice.' He's starting to understand, if you make the plays out here in practice, you're going to make them on Saturday and he's really embraced that.'

For head coach Steve Sarkisian, he now has a troika of young receivers -- Kearse, sophomore Devin Aguilar and true freshman James Johnson -- to tinker with. Each leads the Huskies in a different receiving category. Each seemingly has a different expertise. For Kearse, it's his aerial play.

'One thing that he does as good or better than anybody I've ever been around, is he can really high-point the football,' Sarkisian said. 'You'll notice, when he's catching the football, his arms are really extended. Some guys will wait for the ball to get into their body, well, that's a difference of three feet. He really high-points that ball.'

Kearse's 114 yards against UCLA were a career-high. He's eighth in the conference in receiving yards per game. The evolution from being unsure at the start of fall camp to one of the top receivers in the conference is progressing well.

'His confidence is off the charts right now' Dougherty said. 'He feels good about what he's doing. He knows what he's doing, too. He's a very smart player and when you know what to do, you can play that much better. It's just that simple.'

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