A few months later, the University of Washington junior is ready to forget.
"I'm never staying complacent," the Huskies' go-to receiver said this 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 866 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.
"Week in and week out, he just made big plays for us," Dougherty said. "He's a guy who played with great attention to detail every week, and great energy and great effort. When he had opportunities, he made plays. I was really proud of him."
Whether or not 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 that has plenty of other options, making it likely that the Huskies will spread the ball around this fall.
Locker wasn't willing to make any predictions about the kind of numbers Kearse might put up this season, but he does believe there will be plenty of balls to go around.
"All those guys can be a lot better," the senior quarterback said of a UW receiving corps that also includes former starters Devin Aguilar, D'Andre Goodwin and James Johnson. "They're very talented, and we've seen that the last couple years."
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.
The latter was apparent on a short reception that Kearse turned into a 59-yard gain in Tuesday's scrimmage.
"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. "I'm going to try to make a fast start, do my job and make plays."
As the Huskies get closer to the Sept. 4 season opener at BYU, some injuries are beginning to creep up. Wide receiver James Johnson tried to return from a sprained ankle Thursday but could not finish the session. Starting left tackle Senio Kelemete also sat out the practice with an ankle sprain. Both players could take a few more days off to get fully healthy. Also sidelined were freshmen Jamaal Kearse (swollen knee) and Taz Stevenson (shoulder). Wide receiver D'Andre Goodwin and kicker Erik Folk returned to practice Thursday after taking part of the previous day off. Among the people attending Thursday's practice was former UW coach Don James. The Huskies will hold their second -- and final -- intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at 3 p.m. The session is free and open to the public.
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