UW’s Kearse poised for strong season

SEATTLE – In 2009, Jermaine Kearse had a season to remember.

A few months later, the University of Washington junior is ready to forget.

“I’m never staying complacent,” the Huskies’ go-to receiver said last week as he prepares to follow up on last season’s 50-catch performance. “I always want to raise my game. That’s what I’ve been working on the whole offseason and this whole camp: just raising my game and getting better.”

After breaking onto the scene as a sophomore, Kearse appears primed to put up even bigger numbers this fall. But he’s not overly concerned with statistics or records or anything that might compare him to what he’s done in the past.

“I don’t control the things I can’t,” he said. “Those things will come. You can’t do anything about it except go out there and do your job.”

Others believe the numbers could be even better in 2010 – despite an offense filled with plenty of other weapons with experience.

“I think he definitely can,” wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty said when asked if Kearse could improve on last year’s team-leading receiving totals. “Jermaine’s the type of guy who’s not concerned with the numbers; he’s a team guy, and all he cares about are the wins. But he’s definitely a guy who’ll have the opportunities. Week in and week out, we’re going to make sure a lot of balls go his way.”

Kearse’s 2009 season went beyond anyone’s expectations. His 50 receptions matched the highest single-season total by a UW receiver since Reggie Williams caught 89 passes in 2003. Kearse’s 888 receiving yards and eight touchdowns also eclipsed all the season leaders going back to Williams, who had 1,109 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in ’03.

The most amazing thing about Kearse’s breakout season was how unlikely it seemed early in the fall.

After catching just two passes for 12 yards in limited action against LSU, Kearse became a bigger and bigger focus of the offense on an almost weekly basis. He had two of the most important receptions of the Sept 19 upset of USC, added an eight-catch, 94-yard performance in a loss to Notre Dame two weeks later, and torched UCLA for 114 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions in early November.

He had 23 receptions, 425 yards and six touchdowns in the last four games, averaging almost six receptions, 106.3 yards and more than a touchdown per game in that span. It was quite a finish for a receiver that was so invisible in the season opener that coach Steve Sarkisian took the blame for not getting Kearse involved enough.

Whether Kearse can follow it up is subject to debate. Working in his favor is the return of quarterback Jake Locker, who put the NFL on hold so he could play his senior season at UW, as well as a year of familiarity in Sarkisian’s system. Working against Kearse’s cause is a deep receiving corps, making it likely that the Huskies will spread the ball around this fall.

Kearse was the go-to guy in 2009, and he has the potential to fill that role again this fall. Sarkisian isn’t too concerned with defenses trying to key on him with double teams and gimmick coverages.

“I’d like to think we’ve got enough weapons that, if teams really try to double a receiver of ours, then we can hurt them somewhere else,” Sarkisian said.

After proving himself as a downfield threat with the ability to out-jump defenders and make plays in the air, Kearse has spent a good part of the spring, summer and fall working on his downfield blocking and his ability to run after the catch.

“We anticipate him being not only a deep threat,” Sarkisian said. “One thing he’s working on in his game is taking the short stuff and making the bigger plays with the ball in his hands.”

With a feature role from the outset, Kearse could be in line to improve on a memorable 2009.

But he’s not making any promises about what the numbers will look like in the end.

“I just plan on making the best of my opportunities,” he said.

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