In recent years, the Minnesota Vikings have had a history on drafting college teammates. In recent years, that has included Notre Dame and UCLA.
You can add Clemson to that list.
If that name sounds familiar, it should. His uncle, Jevon Kearse, was one of the most disruptive edge rushers of his era and he has given his nephew some sage advice about thriving in the NFL.
“(He told me) no matter what your circumstances are, you can still do anything you put your mind to,” Kearse said. “Coming from a tough area that we come from, seeing him have a 10-plus year career in the NFL and be known as one of the best defensive ends to play the game, it is something that is going to help me a lot.”
A mammoth center at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, Kearse is an intimidator in the secondary, but he felt as though he was disrespected over draft weekend. Former Clemson teammate Sammy Watkins took to Twitter to defend Kearse, claiming NFL teams were crazy for not drafting him earlier.
Whether it was off-field issues – in 2008 when Kearse was just 14 he was involved in an armed home invasion with a group of young men that got him arrested and eventually a felony conviction and, despite being a model citizen since, he took ownership of the matter on social media a month before the draft – or that he needs some technical refinement, Kearse felt disrespected.
In frustration over the perceived sleight, he claimed he would be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. All he needed was a home. But that call didn’t come until extremely late in the draft process.
“My take on where I ended up going, to me personally, was a sign of disrespect, people not respecting my game, not respecting my abilities,” Kearse said. “It is definitely going to add another element to my game, on top of the type of player I already was. Knowing that a lot of people overlooked me, a lot of people blew me off, it took a lot of faith because I didn’t think anybody was better than me that went before me. It is definitely going to add another element to my game, put a bigger chip on my shoulder. I am just really ready to go out there and go to work and earn everything that I get. I put my mind to it and know that I have goals, and with hard work and dedication I am definitely going to achieve those goals.”
One advantage Kearse will have is that he will be with longtime friend Alexander. Not only were they college teammates, they grew up 15 miles from one another in south Florida.
Having someone with a similar background and life experience will help ease the transition as both head north to start their football careers.
“It will definitely make it a lot easier,” Kearse said. “Being at Clemson for three years together and knowing each other prior going to college, we are going to have that chemistry from day one. When you come in with guys from other schools and they don’t know the same communication that you know so you are on different pages. Being with Mackensie Alexander, we are on the same page so it is going to be a lot easier for both him and I.”
One of the aspects of coming to Minnesota that Kearse is most looking forward to is playing under Mike Zimmer, who is legendary for his ability to create and cultivate NFL defensive backs.
Kearse will be taking a Master’s class in learning the ins and outs of playing safety in the NFL and looks forward to learning his craft from someone with Zimmer’s reputation.
“He’s great, he has great guys,” Kearse said. “They have a lot of depth there, I especially with guys like Harrison Smith. I like to watch his games, I like the way he plays the game. He is known as one of the best safeties in the game right now. Learning from him now that I am a part of the Vikings will be something that I am looking forward to, learning from a great safety and hopefully able to get on the other side of him and form one of the best tandems in the league.”
Most seventh-round draft picks are constantly fighting for their football lives, but Kearse not only believes he can make the Vikings roster, but that he can become a starter and have a long NFL career.
Only time will tell if he continues the family football legacy, but Kearse has no shortage of confidence and is convinced that once he has his foot in the door, the coaching staff is going to see that they got a great value.
“I can go hard, I can play in the box, I can play over the top,” Kearse said. “It really gives me the versatility to go out there and do whatever they need me to do. If they need me to get inside the paint, in the crunch time situation on the goal line, or they need me to play in the middle of the field and put Harrison Smith inside, I can do a lot of things. I am a versatile player, I am a smart player, I move well for a big guy. When you get a player like me, you get a player that is going to give everything he has. Going in the late rounds, I am going to be known as a steal.”