From his seat in the CenturyLink Field end zone 20 rows up Saturday, Lakes High football coach Dave Miller looked to the opposite end and saw a bit of the past come back to life.
There in the other end zone stood Jermaine Kearse, who in 2006 and 2007 returned kickoffs — among lots of other tasks — for Miller’s Lakes High School team. Kearse hadn’t returned one since until getting the chance Saturday night in the first quarter against Denver.
“He’s underneath the goal posts, he’s got his hands on his hips and he’s got that look in his eye like ‘I’m taking this one back,’ ” Miller said. “I turned to some Broncos fans and said, ‘This one’s going back to the house.’ ”
And then in a flash, Kearse made Miller look like a prophet, returning the kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown to key Seattle’s 40-10 exhibition win over Denver. (The return would have been a Seattle regular-season record and a yard shy of the NFL record.)
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The return also made it that much more apparent that Kearse is establishing himself as a key member of the Seahawks as a receiver and special-teams player, a little more than a year after he arrived as an undrafted free agent.
Kearse, in fact, leads the NFL in non-kicker points after two exhibition games, with three touchdowns, the other two on passes — one from Brady Quinn against the Chargers and the other from Russell Wilson in the first quarter against the Broncos.
“Jermaine deserves the most improved award,’’ said Wilson on Wednesday. “He was great before he came in, but he’s electrifying out there. He does a lot of great things.’’
It’s been a pretty meteoric rise for Kearse considering he was left unselected in the 2012 draft, despite leaving Washington as the second-leading receiver in school history with 180 receptions.
An analysis from NFLDraftScout.com during Kearse’s senior year gave a pretty common view of his abilities and a glimpse into why he was left undrafted: “Kearse has a legitimate NFL combination of size and speed, but has been plagued by drops and inconsistency as a route-runner throughout his career.’’
Miller says the emphasis on the passes Kearse didn’t catch at UW was unfair.
“To focus on a few drops and not the (180) balls he caught or the big plays he made against USC and Washington State and Cal and all those games he helped the team win, I think it’s a media over-exaggeration,’’ Miller said. “People kind of put a label on a guy because some people talk about it on the radio. I think it’s ridiculous.’’
Kearse also says he’s not the same player he was then — or even a year ago when he first arrived at Seahawks camp.
He’s now under 210 pounds from the 215 he said he played at his last year at UW and says, “I feel a lot faster.’’
He also credits laser surgery he had earlier this year for improving his vision and allowing him to play without contact lenses, which he said would sometimes move around or come out.
“Things are definitely clearer but I wouldn’t say that’s 100 percent of the reason why I’m catching the balls,’’ he said. “But it helps a lot. I’ve noticed a difference. I can track the ball a lot better, especially in crowds because the ball is dark so it could blend in a little bit.’’
Then he laughs and says football actually wasn’t the main reason he had the surgery.
“Initially I got it done because I was tired of wearing glasses,’’ he said. “It was annoying. And my glasses were broke, too, and they were falling off my face. I was tired of it.’’
Even before the surgery, though, Kearse had impressed Seahawks coaches with his precise route-running, ability to quickly pick up every receiver position and willingness to play on any special team.
Those same traits also stood out at UW, where Kearse also was a regular on many special teams.
One thing he never did there, however, was return kickoffs, despite having success with it at Lakes.
As Kearse notes, he actually was on the kickoff-return team for a while at UW, but instead of receiving kicks he was on the front line blocking. Kearse says he asked a time or two if he could return kicks, but wasn’t overly aggressive about it.
“I tried, but they never let me go back there,’’ he said. “I tried but I didn’t try, I guess you could say.’’
Kearse was especially excited to get the chance again Saturday, an emotion he shared with Miller when the two passed each other on the street as they each made their way to the game.
“I told him I had the first kickoff return and he told me to do it just like high school — see the first seam and hit it,’’ Kearse said. “That’s what I did.’’
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta