The leader Jets have needed makes even Todd Bowles gush

RICHMOND, Va. — Jermaine Kearse was on the golf course last Sept. 1 when his phone rang.

It was his agent to tell him the Seahawks were finalizing a trade to send him to the Jets. A few minutes later, Seattle general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll called him to tell him the deal was done.

“I was probably playing one of my best front nines ever,” Kearse said this week, reflecting on the trade that made him a Jet. “That got interrupted by a phone call.”

Suddenly, Kearse’s life was flipped upside down. A week before the regular season was about to begin, he was on a new team on the opposite side of the country in a situation where he did not know what to expect.

Seattle had signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Washington in 2012. After a short stint on the practice squad, he became a key part of the Seahawks offense. He won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks in 2013 and went to another one a year later.

“I really enjoyed my time over there,” Kearse said. “I got to win a Super Bowl, been to two Super Bowls, won a lot of games, had a lot of success there. It was just a point in time to go different ways. It was bittersweet. I miss the relationships, the friends I had on that team. But I was very excited to come over here and have an opportunity to really showcase my ability and take a program that wasn’t doing that well and try to change the culture and do whatever I can to win games.”

People around the Jets rave about the impact Kearse had last year and continues to have this year. He brings a professional approach to everything he does, from working out to practicing to game day. The Jets have a young team, and Kearse has emerged as one of its leaders.

Jets coach Todd Bowles does not gush over players too often, but bring up Kearse and Bowles can’t say enough good things.

“[He is] extremely smart, a very hard worker, tough, durable, reliable,” Bowles said. “He’s been a breath of fresh air. He does all the little things, he does all the things right and he’s a gamer. He shows up on Sunday, every Sunday, and I think he’s been a good guy for the young guys, young receivers to follow after from a work-ethic standpoint.”

Kearse is a tireless worker. You see him on the practice field early catching passes, running around, chatting up the quarterbacks. He had his best season statistically last year, leading the Jets with 65 catches for 810 yards and five touchdowns.

“I was undrafted, so I had no choice but to work,” Kearse said. “My mindset, I’m a competitor. If there’s a win-loss column, I’m trying to be in the win column no matter what, whether that’s football, whether that’s out here working, whether that’s pickleball, golf, basketball. Whatever it is, I’m trying to win.”

Jets players ask Kearse about the Super Bowls he played in and what it took to get there. Kearse made one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history, but it has become a footnote because the Seahawks lost Super Bowl XLIX to the Patriots when Malcolm Butler upstaged him.

“He has earned that as a leader to be more vocal and have that influence,” quarterback Josh McCown said. “Jermaine has been in a lot of big games. He has played in Super Bowls. That has tremendous value for us, because that’s where we would like to go. Jermaine has been great for our team. As a teammate he is awesome, and as a player. So, I am glad he is with us.”

When Kearse was traded to the Jets, the storyline was how terrible the team was going to be. Instead of running from that, Kearse took that as a challenge and still does.

“I truly believe I was sent to this team for a reason, and that’s to bring my leadership, bring my playmaking ability and my attitude and my mindset,” Kearse said.

“That’s all I’ve been trying to do — get everybody on the same page and expect to win. I think we’re heading in the right direction. I think we’re heading right where we want to. We just have to continue to keep grinding, keep focused, not stoop below our standard.”

A standard Kearse is helping to set.

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