TACCOMA — Here’s how you know that a young pro athlete is legit: When the veterans on his team are excited he’s getting his chance to play.
That’s a sign that the kid has earned his way onto the roster with hard work, and it means that the vets are convinced he can help them win games.
So it was Tuesday with the Seattle Seahawks when undrafted rookie receiver Jermaine Kearse was elevated from the practice squad to the Seahawks’ 53-man roster.
Coaches and teammates went out of their way to congratulate the University of Washington and Lakes High product on Wednesday.
Asked what the response has been to his big news this week, Kearse said: “I got a couple texts … and my brother ran his mouth … but it’s OK.” His brother, Jamaal, is a linebacker for UW.
More important to Kearse than his brother’s commentary was the assessment of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who cited his versatility as a receiver and value on special teams.
“When he had his chances, he made plays in (exhibition) games, and was very impressive through camp as a tough guy involved in special teams as well as a receiver; that’s a big factor for a young guy. That’s a big deal that a guy can help us in those areas.”
And help is certainly needed at receiver, with veteran Ben Obomanu going on the injured-reserve list with a wrist injury, and both Doug Baldwin (ankle) and Braylon Edwards (knee) iffy for Sunday’s home game against Minnesota.
“The coaches are excited for him,” Carroll said. “Those guys are all kinda pulling for him. It’s a good story and hopefully he’ll do very well.”
Receiver Golden Tate, specifically, approached Carroll with his support for Kearse.
“He’s a young guy who is going to be really good,” Tate said. “From Day One he showed what he could do and hasn’t made many of those rookie mistakes. He has some wiggle, and is a strong guy with great hands.”
Kearse was set back early in the offseason with a foot injury, which made it more impressive that he landed on the practice squad.
“I told him back then that I thought at some point this season he was going to be activated,” Tate said. “He’s got a positive attitude, he works hard every day.”
As a “service” team receiver, he’s had to go against the Seahawks’ first-team defense every day in practice. And, in that role, he has often made big catches that caught his teammates’ attention.
Leading receiver Sidney Rice said he thought that Kearse might have the best hands on the team. (“He was just being nice,” Kearse responded).
Asked what he’d done to earn this chance, Kearse was understated, saying it was just a matter of hard work and focusing on the little things.
But when injuries at the position mounted up, Kearse couldn’t help but examine the dwindling depth chart.
“I’m not gonna say I wasn’t thinking about it,” Kearse said. “I just knew if I got my chance I’d make the best of my opportunity and that’s what I’m planning for this weekend.”
Kearse finished his career at UW second on the school’s all-time list for receptions, with some dramatic, game-winning catches on his highlight reel, and a few drops that some Husky fans might also remember.
Although he flew to a speedy time of 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, he clocked a sluggish 4.58 at the scouting combine and went undrafted.
The Seahawks, though, liked his toughness and versatility, and gave him a chance as a free agent.
“It’s like I can’t get out of Washington,” Kearse joked of his progression from Lakes to UW to the Seahawks. “But I’m happy to be here; I’m very fortunate to be here.”
He certainly looks comfortable and confident and prepared in practice.
“I don’t think this opportunity is going to shock him at all; I think he’s ready,” Tate said. “And nobody deserves it more.”