Upon arriving on the Alabama A&M campus, his mother, Sonja Braxton, took away Kearse's keys to their home in Savannah, Ga.
"Oh, man, it was terrible," Kearse told Packer Report last week. "There's nobody to tell you to get up and go to class, nobody to tell you you've got 6 a.m. meetings, nobody's going to call and say, ‘Frank, come over and do this or do that.' You've got to have self-motivation. It was like, ‘Whoa, what am I doing?' I got that self-motivation halfway through the first semester and started being on time."
Call it tough love. The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Kearse figures to be a late-round draft choice this week and will earn his degree in social work next month. A source said the Packers are among teams that are high on Kearse, where he'd fit either as a nose tackle or defensive end in their 3-4 scheme. They've talked to him during the college season, at the school's pro day and both all-star games.
Kearse, who was recruited as an offensive lineman, played defensive tackle in Alabama A&M's 4-3 scheme and played the equivalent of a 3-4 end when the defense went to a five-man line. As a senior, he finished second on the team with 57 tackles with a team-high 14 tackles for losses.
Kearse was being recruited by Georgia, among other schools, but didn't have the grades to qualify. So, he signed to play at Alabama A&M, which is located in Huntsville. Two weeks later, he received word that he was eligible to play immediately. Some of the bigger schools that were recruiting Kearse but backed off began to recruit him again, but Kearse stayed loyal to Ben Blacknall, the school's recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach.
So, Kearse is one of those feel-good stories that the NCAA loves to cite, going from academic nonqualifier to four-year graduate and future NFL player.
"That's bigger than winning a championship. I set the bar for everybody else," Kearse said of being the first person in his family to earn a degree.
Then again, what else was Kearse supposed to do, considering he was seven-and-a-half hours from home and without keys to get in the front door?
"Yeah, that was crazy," said Kearse, whose agent is Chris Martin at OTG Sports. "That was a different kind of feeling, man. She told me she didn't want me to come back. She felt like I had something better to do than go back home. At first, I thought she was the one of the meanest parents in the world but now I really respect and appreciate what she did."
If his mom was his inspiration, a former high school coach was his mentor. Edwin Bailey, who played 11 seasons at guard for the Seattle Seahawks, was Kearse's offensive line coach at Savannah (Ga.) High School. They talked frequently.
"We would always talk about (playing in the NFL) and he would say, ‘Frank, you've got to put in the work. You have to put the work in,'" Kearse recalled. "I think I turned the light switch on going into my junior year and then carried it through all the way until now."
A&M's most famous football alum is Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver John Stallworth, a fourth-round pick in 1974 by the Steelers. Another is the Colts' Robert Mathis, who was a fifth-round pick in 2003.
Whether Kearse can play to that level remains to be seen, though he's confident that his maturity and talent will give him that chance.
"Oh, man, no doubt," he said. "I'm just a diamond in the rough."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.