Frank Kearse is a quick learner.
After arriving at Alabama A&M in 2007, a local reporter asked the young defensive tackle if he was related to former NFL star Jevon Kearse. Kearse, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound defensive lineman, responded with a joking declaration, "No. I'm a way better athlete."
According to Kearse, one his coaches heard the comment and ordered the Savannah, Ga. native to "take a lap." The "lap" was framed in a figurative sense as it lasted roughly half of a sweltering, late summer practice.
"Let's just say I learned a good lesson about talking to the media that day," Kearse said.
The first football lesson Kearse learned in college was how to play defense. An offensive lineman in high school, Kearse was switched to the defensive side of the ball upon entering Alabama A&M. Kearse admits the adjustment was difficult at first, but his mentality never changed.
"In high school, I attacked linemen," Kearse said. "In college, I attacked the ball. It's simple - just run to the football. Towards the end of my sophomore year, I didn't have to second-guess myself. I had my technique down and didn't have to worry as much."
Kearse's production steadily increased throughout his college career, culminating in a terrific senior season capped by 57 total tackles, including 11.5 behind the line of scrimmage. Kearse became the centerpiece of Alabama A&M's defensive line, as he often drew the attention of multiple blockers – earning him the nickname of "Big Spoon."
However, despite Kearse's size and production, he appeared to be off the radar of most NFL scouts. Part of the reason could be because of Alabama A&M's smaller school profile as a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Kearse was recruited by a number of schools, but other circumstances led him to Normal, Ala.
"I didn't qualify at first with my grades, so the big schools were out," Kearse said. "I went back and did my SAT and ACT, but my high school took awhile to get my papers in. I was looked at by some bigger schools, but I didn't have my eligibility yet. A&M offered a scholarship, so I took it. Then, after I was accepted, all my papers came in and I was declared eligible. Those same schools were interested but by that time, I wanted to honor my commitment."
Citing education as another factor in his decision to attend Alabama A&M, Kearse will graduate in June with a degree in social work and plans to return for a master's in counseling. But first, Kearse could hear his name called in April, thanks in large part to an impressive Pro Day performance delivered on some less than desirable conditions.
"The field conditions weren't great," Kearse said. "It had rained pretty steady before. But the rain was just another way to show how to prepare for adversity. It can't always be bright and shiny when you play football. I thought I did okay."
Kearse's Pro Day performance has drawn some buzz among league scouts. In attendance were representatives of 15 NFL teams, many of whom left with a respect for Kearse's potential.
"Frank has the size and ability to play professional football," said Mark Gorscak of the Pittsburgh Steelers. "He is explosive and impressive. His game tape and resume has earned him the recognition."
Speaking of the Steelers, Kearse cites Pittsburgh's venerable Casey Hampton as a player to emulate.
"I love watching him play," Kearse said. "His hand placement and technique are the same on every play. He knows his technique and what works and just plays his game. He understands his game."
As for his potential role in the NFL, Kearse's size would seem to suggest he would fit best into a 3-4 scheme – much like Hampton. However, Kearse is confident that his skills can translate into any defensive alignment.
"It's the NFL," Kearse said. "I'll play anywhere. I'll play safety if I have to. I'm not sure how good I'll be there, but I can play any of the line positions. I'm a bruiser. I'm aggressive and I always want to finish the play. My mentality is to get on the team, then get on the field. I don't want to sit on the bench. My goal is always to be better than the guy next to me."
As for his prospects of landing in Cleveland to shore up the Browns' badly depleted defensive line, Kearse senses a fit.
"That's one of the great divisions," Kearse said. "A lot of championships come out of there and the Browns are coming on. They've added some players."
Considering the Browns' needs along the defensive line, adding Kearse in the later rounds of the draft could make a lot of sense.