By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
With Travis Blanks being attended to by trainers on the Carrier Dome field, the Clemson coaching staff searched for his replacement. They did not know how badly Blanks was hurt, but they knew they needed another player to take his place for the time being.
They just could not find him.
Freshman Jayron Kearse was nowhere to be found on the sideline. After some tense moments, Kearse emerged right where the coaches should have expected him to be.
“I had already run on the field,” he said with a grin. “I was so anxious to get out there.”
Kearse is what some might call a “gamer”, meaning he loves to be on the field competing and making plays. Every chance he has to be out on the gridiron, he takes full advantage.
Those chances are fewer and farther between than Kearse is accustomed to seeing. As a prep juggernaut with an impressive pedigree, Kearse played pretty much every snap in high school. He expected to compete for playing time at Clemson—even as a true freshman—but the time he has gotten on the field so far has not quenched his thirst.
“It’s a humbling experience being a backup, playing behind someone else,” Kearse said. “You’re not getting the playing time you had in high school. But I’ve been dealing with it pretty well, just waiting for my number to be called.”
Blanks’ injury provided a golden opportunity to Kearse, and he took full advantage. In 119 snaps so far this season, the Florida native has amassed 16 tackles. His stature is considered a strength—defensive coordinator Brent Venables says he has never had a 6’4” safety on one of his teams—that can help the Tigers down the road.
“I’m a big guy that can move really well, so that’s going to help me back there deep,” Kearse said. “I can move from hash to hash pretty well and cover a lot of passes when the ball is in the air. Quarterbacks have to make a precise throw, or I’m going to make a play on the ball.”
When looking for inspiration, Kearse finds Kam Chancellor—an oversized safety from Virginia Tech currently playing for the Seattle Seahawks—to be a model he can look to emulate.
“He’s a big safety—6’4”, 242 out there, coming up and hitting, making plays on the ball,” Kearse said. “I like him a lot because I’m a big safety, so I try to use him as a model and try to do some of the same things he’s doing.”
Some have speculated Kearse could grow into a linebacker—or even a defensive end—at the collegiate level. He says he could not care less, as long as he gets a chance to showcase his skill set on the field of play.
Kearse has progressed to the point that coaches feel confident sticking him into a game right off the bat and competing with conference foes. He loves to play on Saturdays, which is why his coaches should check the field if they struggle to locate him in the future.