Jermaine Kearse (Scout.com)
SEATTLE, Wash. - Kimberly Schmidtke felt around in her pockets. Her cell phone was going off, but it wasn't ringing. It was a text message. She flipped up the front of her phone and clicked a couple of buttons. Then she nearly fainted.
Schmidtke, the mother of Lakes quarterback Calvin Schmidtke, was at an Air 7 camp at the University of Washington. It was a beautiful summer day in Seattle, a day where you want to go out and hike, camp, fish - do all the outdoorsy things most folks in the northwest take for granted when given such a nice day. Calvin was at camp, getting better, and also getting seen by QB gurus like Steve Clarkson and Casey Clausen - the oldest brother of current Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen.
But all that sun and fun turned into a nightmare the moment Kimberly looked at the screen of her cell phone. "Oh my God!" she screamed, with a look of sheer horror.
How do I know? I happened to be standing right next to her at the time.
Honestly? I had never seen anyone have such a visceral reaction to something they had just seen via cell phone. But I have never read a text like the one she had just been sent.
She pulled herself closer to me - as if to tell me something that she didn't want anyone else to know about. "Oh my God!" she blurted out again, her face sprinkled with tears.
"Jermaine's father died!"
Jermaine is Jermaine Kearse. Jermaine is an unbelievable football player. He plays offense, defense and special teams for the Lakes Lancers in Lakewood, a suburb of Tacoma, Wash. He's a U.S. Army All-American, and will be playing in the Army game in San Antonio in January.
But in July, all I knew was that Jermaine Kearse was an incredibly gifted player who happened to find out that his father was cut down in his prime.
The Air 7 camp lasted two days; this news came on Saturday morning. But on Sunday Kearse and his mother Angelika were there, along with teammates Schmidtke, Kavario Middleton and Koreye Dixon. His younger brother Jamaal - just about to be a sophomore receiver at Lakes - was also there.
When I saw the Kearse family come down the entrance that edges the far southeast corner of Husky Stadium, I was speechless. Those who know me best understand I'm rarely at a loss for words, but the show of strength and resolve by that family to honor a commitment to attend the camp - in the face of enormous personal sorrow and tragedy - blew me away.
At the time I chalked it up to the idea that finishing the camp is what his father Dave would have wanted Jermaine to do. I even did a video interview with Jermaine and Jamaal - but not once did I ever think of asking about their Dad.
It was just too soon.
And I might not ever ask, just knowing that Jermaine is a quiet kid, a guy that just works his butt off and gets the job done and isn't too concerned with what the world is thinking.
He's never had to pump his fist or yell at someone to prove his competitive spirit and appetite for the game he loves.
Fast forward to the Thursday after Thanksgiving. When Kearse - along with fellow teammate and U.S. Army All-American Middleton declared their intent to sign with Washington in February - it served as a poignant tribute to Jermaine's father - who, according to everyone that knew him - was as big a Washington Huskies fan as you could find.
The two will make their thoughts official during a Friday press conference at Lakes High School, but Scout.com has confirmed their decision through sources close to the process. It's arguably the biggest single piece of high school football recruiting news to ever come out of the Evergreen State.
"I told Jermaine that his Dad would be proud of him for the choice that he made," Lakes Head Coach Dave Miller told Scout.com.
According to Miller, when Jermaine heard those words he smiled a little - in acknowledgment of everything that had transpired - but didn't dwell on it for too long. "I know when he first found out (about his father's death) he was a little in shock," Miller added. "We had a passing league that Monday, and he told me that he didn't want to change anything that he was doing.
"I think the first game of the year, he broke down a little bit. I think it kind of caught up to him. He's definitely dealt with it in his own way."
Miller has had to deal with family passings in his own way too. His father died when he was 25 years old. "I could relate (to Kearse)," he said. "For a while I was bitter about what happened, but then I just realized that this wasn't the way my father would have wanted me to live my life. And Jermaine has done such an amazing job of honoring his father by what he's done and what he's accomplished."
For those that only saw Kearse play on Friday nights, you probably would never have guessed anything had happened. On the year he caught 55 passes for 903 yards. He scored eight touchdowns. He picked off seven passes on defense. He returned a kick 99 yards for another score. He had an 80-yard return for a touchdown on a blocked field goal attempt. He finished the year with 85 tackles on defense, named by the Tacoma News Tribune as their area Defensive Player of the Year.
Yet something was different. Something had changed. Dave Kearse wasn't standing by the waist-high chain link fence that surrounds Harry Lang Stadium - Lakes' home field. He was always there, a constant. He would never miss a game.
But now he was gone. Gone was the man from North Carolina, a man who had played high school football alongside Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham and the Huskies' Receivers Coach - Charlie Baggett. They didn't all play on the same team, but rival teams - and their shared experience and love of the game of football gave Dave even more reason to love the hometown Dawgs and what the future might hold under Willingham's leadership.
And with his verbal commitment to the Huskies Thursday, Kearse honored the memory of his father in a way that could possibly bring some closure. "I think there are a lot of reasons why both Jermaine and Kavario would want to go to Washington," Miller said. "The proximity to home is good, so their families can see them play. The education there can't be beat. They have an opportunity to return the program to a high level. The chance for early playing time is there. And I also think getting a chance to play in the offense with Jake (Locker) factored in a little too. I think it was a lot of things."
Kearse is known as big-play guy, but it's the little things he does that only those closest to him see. During the Lancers' first game of the season - against Gig Harbor - Kearse scored on a 51-yard pass from Schmidtke in the third quarter. Typically, once Jermaine hit the end zone, that was it. He'd turn around toss the football to the nearest official, and get mobbed by excited teammates.
This time was a little different.
Once he scored, Kearse raised his finger in the air and looked up. "Man, did you see what Jermaine did?" Lakes players asked Coach Miller afterwards.
Coach saw it. He knew what it meant.
It was for Dave. And I know Dave saw it.
He saw a subtle, yet incredibly powerful gesture by a son known for speaking more with actions than with words.
It spoke volumes.