LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- Despite having played five years in the National Football League with the Seattle Seahawks in front of crowds of 60,000 or more, Jermaine Kearse was nervous when he took the stage in front of about 400 people at the McGavick Event Center on the campus of Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood Feb. 16, 2016.
Kearse was the keynote speaker for the college's All In: A Champion's Mindset. He was not necessarily there as a Seattle Seahawks star, but as a representative of his 15 to 1 Foundation to help youths in military communities. His mission is to inspire those who are veterans or come from military families.
NFL wide receiver Jermaine Kearse was the keynote speaker during All In: A Champion's Mindset, hosted by Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood February 16, 2016. (Courtesy photo by Joint Base Lewis-McChord Public Affairs Office)
In the crowd were students, faculty and staff from the college and about 120 students from throughout the Clover Park School District, including 30 from his alma mater Lakes High School. The audience listened intently because he had walked in the shoes that many of them are in now. Kearse was born and raised on Joint Base Lewis-McChord while his father, David, was a sergeant first class in the Army.
The focal points of the talk were his foundation's three pillars of success -- hard work, perseverance and believing.
"These are steps that I took that I think will be beneficial for others in being able to get to the places where I am today," Kearse said.
Those were the steps that helped him graduate from Lakes and go on to play college football at the University of Washington. There were bumps along the way as Kearse wasn't drafted into the NFL -- a perfect example of how the path to success isn't always smooth.
"If it was, I would have been drafted first overall," Kearse said.
Instead, he was an undrafted free agent to the Seahawks and only had three catches in 2012. But as time went on and the Seahawks played in two Super Bowls in 2014 and 2015, Kearse made highlight catches in games during big moments.
The local kid has done the community proud -- just ask Dave Miller, his former Lakes Lancers head coach.
Miller has seen the growth and development of Kearse not only as a player, but as a role model for the students he currently teaches and coaches.
"It was something he was always motivated to do if he ever got to this position," Miller said. "It shows the kids that the path has been paved, and if they work hard, persevere and make good choices, they can reach their goals and dreams, too."
It was an impactful event for the college, where the more than 7,300 students include service members, veterans and dependents -- most of which come from JBLM. Dr. Lonnie L. Howard, CPTC president said having Kearse speak on campus was an amazing opportunity.
"Quite often [with] a lot of professional athletes, once they arrive, they don't go back," Howard said. "But it speaks to his character that he came back."
The CPTC visit was part of a busy week for Kearse, who had coached a military youth basketball team his foundation sponsored over the weekend in Olympia -- a team he coached to an overtime win. On Monday, Kearse and his foundation brought six children from Gold Star families to the state capitol in Olympia as part of a recognition from the Washington State House of Representatives.
Kearse is set to be a free agent this offseason, but he didn't answer questions about his NFL future during the event. He did speak on how he wants to continue developing the foundation that started in July 2015.
He's thought about how the foundation can grow, but he wants to continue focusing on assisting military youths at JBLM and the rest of Washington, he said.
"[JBLM] has a really special place in my heart and I wanted to give back," Kearse said. "I want to help them find what they're passionate about, what they want to do in the future and help them take the steps to get to those dreams in any way that I can."
By Dean Siemon, JBLM Northwest Guardian
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