Happy 42nd birthday to Jevon Kearse.
Any football fan from the early 2000’s will recall Jevon Kearse as one of the most dominant defensive players in the game. With today being his birthday, it gives us an excuse to look back at his journey to the NFL, as well as his illustrious 11-year NFL career.
High School/College Career
Kearse attended North Fort Myers High School in North Fort Myers, Florida. Standing over six-feet-tall and being incredibly agile, Kearse succeeded at both the strong safety and tight end positions. In his first high school season, he managed to return four kicks for touchdowns as a return man. After his senior year in 1994, Kearse was named a prep All-American by USA Today, while also being named a part of the National Honor Society after posting a 3.6-grade point average.
Kearse decided to attend the Steve Spurrier coached Florida Gators, who were coming off of back-to-back Conference Titles in 1993 and 1994. Kearse, now a six-foot-four, 215-pound freshman, began his collegiate career as a safety, although he would be red-shirted and forced to watch the 1995 National Championship game against Nebraska from the sidelines.
In 1996, Kearse would move to outside linebacker. In his inaugural game, he would account for six solo tackles and a sack, earning himself the nickname “the Freak”. Kearse would help the Gators win the National Championship over Florida State that season, and would be named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
Following the season, Kearse tragically lost his half-brother, Jermaine Green, in a drive-by shooting. Green was just 17-years-old. When Kearse heard the news, he stated, ”It made me feel like I should’ve been there. We grew up together, we did everything together… I’m trying to put this all behind me. I know he’s in a better place.”
In 1997, Kearse would be named to the All-SEC team after recording a team-high 6.5 sacks in the regular season, along with 38 tackles and two forced fumbles. In 1998 as a redshirt junior, Kearse would once again be named to the All-SEC team, while also being named an All-American and AP Defensive Player of the Year, after registering 7.5 sacks and 54 total tackles. “The Freak” would be a finalist for the Butkus, Lombardi and Chuck Bednarik awards that season.
Although Kearse had one more year of eligibility remaining, he decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft. When asked about his reasoning for the decision, Kearse stated: “I think I’ve accomplished the four goals I wanted to when I attended the University of Florida: To become a better person, to win a national championship, to get an education and finally to have a chance to play in the NFL.”
Kearse, the 16th pick in the 1999 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans, saw instant success in his career. He was named Rookie of the Month in all but one month of the 1999 season, named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year at years’ end and was the first rookie defensive end to be named a Pro-Bowl starter since Al “Bubba” Baker in 1978. Kearse’s All-Pro rookie year is glorified by his 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles, which both stand as most by any rookie in recorded NFL history. The Titans would make it to the Super Bowl in 1999, although they would fall just short to the St. Louis Rams.
In 2000, Kearse would continue his dominance, registering 11.5 sacks, 51 total tackles, four forced fumbles and six pass deflections, earning himself a second Pro-Bowl selection. Once again as a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, it was clear Jevon Kearse was one of the most dominant players in the NFL.
“The Freak” would move from left end to right in 2001, although it would not negatively affect his production. He totaled 10.0 sacks and 36 total tackles in route to his third consecutive Pro-Bowl. Despite missing the playoffs, the Titans remained a contender because of the likes of their dominant defense, as well as the toughness and leadership of their quarterback, the late Steve McNair, and running back, Eddie George.
In 2002, Kearse would suffer a fracture in his fifth metatarsal in his left foot on the second play from scrimmage in the season opener, causing him to miss 12 total games. The Titans would eventually lose to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship game.
In 2003, “the Freak” recorded 9.5 sacks in the first nine games of the season. Unfortunately, he was hampered by an ankle injury in the second half of the year, and failed to record another sack. Despite the injury, Kearse was a major impact player for the Titans in ’03, helping them reach the AFC Divisional round for the fourth time in five years. although the Titans would lose to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
“The Freak” would become an unrestricted free agent in 2004, and decided to sign an eight-year, $65 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. Kearse continued to be a force in the NFL, compiling 7.5 sacks and 31 total tackles in 14 regular season games that year. Kearse added two sacks in the playoffs in route to reaching the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Kearse, Philadelphia would fall short to the New England Patriots, although the Eagles’ defense was far from the issue, as they ranked second in points allowed per game in the regular season, and managed to hold the Patriots to just 24 points.
The Eagles took a major step backwards in 2005, posting a 6-10 record and placing last in the NFL East. Kearse remained a factor, posting 7.5 sacks, 38 total tackles, eight passes defended and three forced fumbles, although because of injuries to key players like Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Hank Fraley, Tra Thomas, Lito Shepard and others, as well as the suspension of Terrell Owens, the Eagles could not compete.
In 2006, Kearses’ season would be cut short after just two games due to an LCL tear and tibia fracture. The following season, Kearse would come in well below his playing weight, which was due to his recovery process. He recorded just 3.5 sacks and 12 tackles in 14 total games in 2007 and would be cut by the Eagles before the start of 2008.
In 2008, Kearse returned to Tennessee, singing a two-year, $6 million contract. “The Freak” would be a key piece for the Titans, starting all 16-games as the Titans rolled to a 13-3 record, and a first-place finish in the AFC South. Kearse would play a more secondary roll in 2009, and would retire following the end of the season. “The Freak” would retire with 74.0 career sacks, good for 75th most in NFL history.
Kearse created the “Jevon Kearse foundation” in 2009, which has helped communities in a multitude of ways, including; providing turkeys to families in need during Thanksgiving, providing toys and clothes for children during the holidays and providing backpacks and school supplies for children before the school year.
In an interview with Seth Soffian of NewsPress.com, a 41-year-old Kearse stated that “I definitely could still play”. As a fan of Kearse and the NFL, I would love to get one last glance of “the Freak” flying off the edge.
Once again, happy birthday Jevon Kearse. Thank you for everything you have done, and continue to do, for our communities, the NFL and its fans.