Kerr, a fifth-year senior from Cleveland, is penciled in as Ohio State's starting middle linebacker as the Buckeyes go through preseason camp. It has been a long, strange trip for Kerr, who played his high school ball at Cleveland St. Ignatius. He spent one rocky school year in 2002-03 at Indiana – even lining up as the starting middle linebacker for the Hoosiers against Ohio State in Ohio Stadium.
A rift with then-IU coach Gerry DiNardo led Kerr to transfer out and pay his own way to attend Ohio State. Intra-conference transfers can not receive scholarships, so Kerr had to walk on to the OSU football team.
He sat out 2003 as a transfer, then missed 2004 because of a snafu with his transfer. Last year, he worked on special teams and as a backup.
But now – finally – Kerr has the opportunity he has been waiting for.
"He's anxious," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "John is a kid who has worked hard and been good on special teams. He had to sit there with a bunch of good linebackers, who hardly ever let you practice let alone get in the games. That's just the way those kids were, so he's ready."
OSU defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, back for his third year as a starter, said he has been impressed with the way Kerr has taken a leadership role with the defense. But Kerr said he knows the best way he can gain his teammates' trust is through consistently strong play.
"I believe the only way you can lead is through actions," Kerr said. "I have to show everybody I am accountable and they can count on me. When you do that and you show them you're here every day, they'll listen to you. First, I have to go out there and show I'm here to work hard and help this team win."
The 6-1 Kerr has taken this opportunity seriously. This off-season, he dropped 13 pounds to get down to 233 in an effort to improve his speed.
"We worked very hard," Kerr said. "We were very fortunate to have Eric Lichter come in as our strength coach. I don't think you could work any harder than we did this summer. We're physically prepared and mentally prepared. Now, it comes down to fine tuning during this camp."
You can usually find Kerr around the ball. He tallied a team-high 114 tackles for Indiana in 2002.
"I just like hitting people," he said. "It's not the same on offense. I just like getting after people and ripping their head off."
The Buckeyes must replace nine starters on defense. Kerr said the Buckeyes must fill those holes and carry on the level of play that has made OSU successful in recent years.
"There will be a lot of question marks until you get out on the field," he said. "The one thing that can make up for that is passion and hard work, and we have both of those things. We're ready to go. We're coming together as a team."
The Buckeyes were installed as the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason USA Today coaches poll. Kerr discussed what that means to he and his teammates.
"We're pleased and honored to be No. 1," he said. "But at the same time, we understand we have a lot of work to do to be considered No. 1. It's all going to come down to this camp. How hard to we work? How much progress will we make? When we play Northern Illinois, there won't be any more time to prepare. We have to go out there and play. The seniors and leaders have to take this team by the horns and show them how to go."
Regarding this thing called preseason camp, Kerr tried to sum up what happens.
"It's hot, it's long and there are a bunch of meetings," he said. "The biggest thing you have to prepare for is you're not going to sleep much. But we're definitely prepared after camp. He definitely knows how to get you ready for a season. Your body is fresh, but at the same time you have enough reps in to feel like you've played half a season already."
Kerr has some family company in the OSU camp nowadays. His brother, Josh, received a scholarship as a freshman offensive lineman in time for spring football. Josh Kerr had originally signed with Miami (Fla.), but was left looking for another school when that deal fell through.
"We woke up and started packing up our stuff," John Kerr said of the day he and his brother moved in at OSU. "He had those nervous jitters because it's his first camp. It was good to be able to talk to him and calm him down and tell him how it's going to be."
Kerr said it is that competition is the biggest part of preseason camp.
"Jobs are still up in the air," he said. "I don't feel like I have a job yet. I have to go out there and fight every single day. If I didn't, I wouldn't get better. It makes you nervous every single day and it makes you work harder."
In order to help the team, Kerr said he is also able to slide over and play outside linebacker if needed.
"They've got me to understand both Will and Mike," he said. "I'm interchangeable on either one. I'll go wherever they need me to go to help the team."
The middle linebacker job looks like it is Kerr's to lose. Fellow fifth-year senior Mike D'Andrea is also in the running, but his recurring knee problems have flared up again. Chad Hoobler, another middle linebacker candidate, has also been repping as a defensive end.
"I think I bring leadership and intensity," Kerr said. "It's hard to beat a guy who never stops."