Run, pass, catch ... Kerley does it all
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Thinking of creative ways to return kicks to the end zone -- and get on "SportsCenter" -- isn't the only thing on Jeremy Kerley's mind on a regular basis.
The Horned Frog's electrifying receiver and kick returner, who has two punt returns for touchdowns this season, still thinks about wearing a TCU baseball jersey.
"It runs through my mind all the time," Kerley said. "I might do it this year or maybe next year. My dream is getting to the NFL, and I don't want to put anything in the way of that. But baseball is my love."
It turns out Kerley's speed isn't confined to only his legs. He said he threw a 94-mph fastball in high school, garnering attention from Texas and Stanford. And he could hit, too.
But baseball can wait -- at least for now. Kerley's focus is competing on TCU's biggest bowl stage since the 1957 Cotton Bowl, when the Frogs beat Jim Brown's Syracuse team, 28-27. A win in the Fiesta Bowl over Boise State would give TCU its first undefeated season since 1938.
"We're just looking at Boise and worried about coming out with a victory," Kerley said. "They are 13-0 just like us. We better be ready."
Kerley, who chose TCU over offers from Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, could certainly provide an advantage in special teams. The Frogs look for a variety of ways to put the ball in his hands. Kerley returns punts and kickoffs. He's caught at least three passes in nine of TCU's games this season. He's lined up behind center in the "Wild Frog" formation. And he's even thrown a pass, completing a 44-yard reception in a 38-7 win at BYU.
"He's been really important to our offensive success," junior center Jake Kirkpatrick said. "It's always important to have good field position. That's something he's given us all year."
Kerley takes pride in his ability to not only set up his offense with a short field, but to inject some enthusiasm and momentum into the game. Maybe the best example of that was his punt return for a touchdown against SMU.
TCU trailed 7-6 in the rain when Kerley fielded a punt at his own 29-yard line. He weaved and bobbed his way through Mustangs defenders to give the Frogs a 12-7 lead. A team that appeared flat to that point charged to a 39-14 win.
He's done everything we've asked him to do. When we've been in low parts of ball games, he's gotten us out of it. Anytime he touches the ball, he can make things happen." -- TCU coach Gary Patterson
on do-it-all player Jeremy Kerley
"He's been a guy you have to deal with," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "He's done everything we've asked him to do. When we've been in low parts of ball games, he's gotten us out of it. Anytime he touches the ball, he can make things happen."
Kerley called the SMU return the biggest of his career. It ended TCU's 89-game streak without a punt return for a touchdown, the seventh-longest stretch in the country. But the loudest cheers came for linebacker Tanner Brock, who made a ferocious block on the play despite his helmet falling off.
"I was in front of the play and didn't hear about it until I got to the sidelines. I already knew he was crazy," Kerley said about Brock. "I thought he was insane. I went over there and he was a little out of it. I couldn't wait to see it on film. That was my best friend for the week."
Two weeks later, Kerley got another chance to make the highlight reel against Colorado State. He raced down the sidelines after catching a punt and avoided a tackler by quickly putting on the brakes, allowing the player to go past him out of bounds. Kerley then turned on his speed again to get to the end zone with 49 seconds left in the half. It was another well-timed, momentum-boosting return that turned a TCU deficit into a 10-6 lead. The Frogs came out in the second half and dominated, winning 44-6.
"When I'm back there, I'm just thinking end zone," Kerley said. "If the guys make the blocks, I try to do what I can. When I get a chance, I try to help the team."
Kerley came into the season focused on better using his speed. Too often, he said, he would just sprint as hard as he could and not wait for things to happen.
"My biggest improvement is vision," Kerley said. "I'm trying to see the field more. I'm slowing things down instead of speed, speed, speed. The field opens up more and I can see where I can hurt the defense."
Perhaps Kerley's toughest defender is his 1-year-old son, Dae'Shone, who has no trouble wrapping his arms around his father's legs.
"It's really, really fun to wake up and see what he's going to do," Kerley said. "He might as well be the toughest kid in America."
And maybe the fastest, too. Dae'Shone's mother is TCU sprinter Kristal Juarez. Kerley's teammates joke that his son could have the genes to beat his father in the 40-yard dash.
That's still a few years away, though. Kerley still has defenses he'd like to outrun to the end zone. His goal: Help his team beat Boise State with some good kick returns.
"I can't wait," Kerley said. "This game will give us a bigger idea of how good we are. I guess we'll know soon."
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