Jermaine Kearse still is shadowed by his reputation with the Washington Huskies — that he dropped too many passes.
Mr. Positivity walks through the Seahawks’ locker room most days with one mission. He wants to find the positive in everything.
A pair of shoes? Even if he has seen them before, he still might say, “Bro, those are some nice kicks right there! You really wear those well!” Or he might express excitement about practice, even if he isn’t all that excited. But by the end of spreading his positivity, he just might look forward to practicing.
Mr. Positivity has only one stated goal, which is to be “overly, exaggeratingly positive about ev-ery-thing.” And he has his believers.
“It creates an atmosphere,” says Seahawks tight end Luke Willson, a follower and practitioner of Mr. Positivity’s work.
But Mr. Positivity is not always present in the locker room. Sometimes he is simply Jermaine Kearse, the fourth-year Seahawks receiver who played at Lakes High School in Lakewood and at the University of Washington.
Kearse created Mr. Positivity as a joke last season when the Seahawks were struggling and has kept up the persona. Jermaine Kearse also is positive but far more human. There are times when the pressure and criticism gets to him, and it’s not so easy to be positive. Mr. Positivity is Kearse’s counter punch to the criticism he has heard from coaches he has played for and from fans in the only state he has called home.
Kearse still is shadowed by his reputation with the Huskies — specifically, that he dropped too many passes. His problem is that he’s naturally interested in the opinions of others, and it is hard to turn that off just for football. In college, he read complaints on message boards or Twitter. He couldn’t help himself.
“My senior year, that was my worst year,” he says. “I just let all the noise really eat at me. There were times where I doubted myself. Am I going to catch this or not? I think that really, really messed with me. That was when I was really dropping it.”
He played against Oregon as a senior, in the last game before UW renovated Husky Stadium. He had three catches for 24 yards. An assistant under previous Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian — he didn’t want to say who — texted him that night about his chances in the NFL draft: “You’d be lucky if a team picked you next year.”
Kearse shut down after that text and finished his senior season with 699 yards, a year after having 1,000 yards. He left as UW’s second all-time leading receiver in catches, yards and touchdowns.
The Seahawks signed him as an undrafted free agent, and his agent later told him that coach Pete Carroll wasn’t immediately sold. But Kippy Brown, then the Seahawks receivers coach, spoke up. “He really fought for me,” Kearse says. “He always says that, anyway. I could see it.”
But now that he’s established in the NFL he still remembers his senior season, determined not to let that happen again.
“The thing is, I really do enjoy playing the game,” Kearse says. “Even though there’s a lot of other stuff that comes with it, I really try to keep it as simple as that. This is the game that I’ve been playing since I was young. And I had a point in my life that I let someone else take the fun out of the game when I was in college.”
Keeping his teammates loose
In the locker room before games, Kearse likes to freestyle rap. He is not very good, but that doesn’t stop him. He taps receiver Doug Baldwin, whose locker is next to his, and pulls off Baldwin’s headphones.
“He’s bothering me the whole time,” Baldwin says. Baldwin seethes intensity before games, but Kearse is different.
“It’s fun, though,” Baldwin says. “I would say Jermaine helps me because I can get overly focused sometimes.”
In the huddle, Kearse messes with teammates. Two of his favorite targets were Marshawn Lynch because Lynch joked back and Jimmy Graham because Graham was so serious.
There were times where I doubted myself. Am I going to catch this or not? I think that really, really messed with me. That was when I was really dropping it.” - Jermaine Kearse on his struggles in college
“Jimmy sometimes just stands and stares,” Kearse said this year, “and I’ll be messing with him and he won’t say nothing back. And I’ll be like, ‘If you just want me to shut up, just tell me to shut up.’ Jimmy’s cool, man.”
Another time, he turned his attention to quarterback Russell Wilson. “It’s me and Russell’s rookie year, and we’re playing Denver at Denver,” Kearse says. “I’m talking in the huddle, and Russell gets in the huddle and I’m talking and talking. And Russell looks at me and goes, ‘Would you shut the (expletive) up?’”
Kearse is a chameleon. It allows him to adapt to any situation and serves him well as a teammate. But he can lose his perspective, especially because he isn’t confrontational.
“Sometimes I’m so into other people’s perspective,” he says, “that I don’t know what my own perspective or my own opinion is.”
He asks teammates about where they grew up or went to college because he has known only Washington. He loved asking former Seahawks receiver Chris Matthews about going from Los Angeles to college in Kentucky or talking to defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs about his childhood, which has similarities to the movie, “The Blind Side.” His favorite part about playing football is that it allows him to meet people from all over.
Kearse is inquisitive by nature. During a pause in an interview, he declared, “I want to write a story. I want to write a story about your side. I’m interested in it.”
It was an idea he kicked around in college, but his curiosity is not born from an interest in the media so much as an interest in other people.
“He wants to know and experience other people’s lives or where they came from,” said Seahawks receiver Kevin Smith, Kearse’s college teammate and close friend. “He’s the type of guy who wants to know what people think when they’re outside of their comfort zone.”
And because he is so aware of what others think, he knows what many fans are saying about him. “They should trade him!” he says. “Of course.”
He has three games with zero catches but is coming off a four-catch, two-touchdown game last week. He is on pace for the most yards and most catches of his career. He is better at ignoring criticism and admiration, but he doesn’t always succeed. “I gave in once this season,” he says. “It was the bye week. I searched my name on Twitter. Dammit, I did.”
He could easily delete Twitter and cut off the rabbit hole, but he won’t.
“Because I’m not going to let something control my life,” he says. “I’ve got endorsement opportunities, stuff like that, but I’m also not going to get rid of something like that, because then it has control over my life.”
During his Seahawks debut in 2012, Kearse caught a pass on his first play and dropped one the next time he was in. He started smiling on the field.
“I had some people on Twitter ask why I was smiling,” he says, laughing. “Here comes Kearse with the drops!”
Moving on from the Super Bowl
A week after the Super Bowl this year, Kearse traveled to Nicaragua, the first time he left the country for somewhere other than Canada. He went with students from Central Washington as part of a sustainable development program. He shoveled concrete and visited Little Corn Island, where residents didn’t have electricity at night.
“The Super Bowl was tough,” Kearse says, referring to the Seahawks’ loss to the Patriots. “But I think when I went to Nicaragua and saw everything, it was easy for me to just let the Super Bowl go. It’s funny, because … I know there are people who are going to criticize that. But I feel like if they were in our shoes, they would understand.”
The perception of Kearse during the Super Bowl changed in 45 seconds. He went from making one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history to playing a role in the most devastating play in Seahawks history.
Kearse was tasked with blocking Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner on the final offensive play, but NFL Network analyst and former fullback Heath Evans said Kearse’s failure to do so helped allow Malcolm Butler to intercept Wilson’s pass from the 1-yard line instead.
“I love Jermaine’s tape, and I hate to critique it this way, but he got lazy on the biggest play in all of football, and it cost his team a Super Bowl,” Evans said.
“On that last play,” Kearse says, “I do feel like I could have done a better job. I’ve heard that, that it was my fault. It doesn’t really bother me because I’ve been receiving criticism my whole (expletive) career. I’ve watched it. I know what I did. If I could have done it over, I would have taken a flatter angle and would rather have (Butler) make a play underneath than over the top.”
That came on the heels of the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay, in which Kearse reversed roles. Four times Wilson threw passes to Kearse, and four times those passes were intercepted. Two hit Kearse’s hands.
“During the game,” he said, “I was like, ‘They’re gonna kill me on Twitter.’ ”
But the game ended in overtime with Wilson finding Kearse for a touchdown, and Kearse was celebrated for his resolve.
Marriage and devotion to faith help
Not too long before the Packers game, Kearse dove into his faith. He always has been a Christian, but he noticed how happy his younger brother, Jamaal, was after becoming more involved at church. Jamaal invited Jermaine to join him.
Kearse is soon to be 26. He got married this summer and is thinking of starting a family. He wants to pass along the lessons he’s learned to his kids, but first he has to decide which of those lessons are important.
“Now that I’m married and may have kids in the next few years,” he says, “I start to find myself asking, ‘Who am I as a person? Who am I as a man, and how do I want to be as a man? What do I want to teach my kids?’”
Kearse didn’t get married or inspect his faith because of football, but both have helped with football. The things that used to eat at him don’t mean as much as they once did, but they will always hound him.
He is on a one-year contract with the Seahawks and is aware of the speculation that he won’t be back. He has never stopped believing in himself, but he isn’t fixed. Some days he is positive. Some days he is not. Every day the challenge starts again.
This does not bother him.
Mr. Positivity won’t let it.