By Jim Fenton, The Enterprise
Kevin Kearns got used to lining up against older players during the early portion of his football career in Bridgewater.
Because of his size, Kearns was usually too big to be placed in his own age group in the town’s youth leagues, so he would be moved up to face players who had a couple of years on him.
That experience of being the youngster came in handy when Kearns arrived at Bentley University in the fall of 2006.
Just three months after graduating from Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School, Kearns was suddenly a starter on the offensive line for the Falcons, competing against seniors who were a few years older.
It is a rarity for freshmen to step right in and play such a significant role, especially on the offensive line, but Kearns was more than capable of doing just that in his first collegiate season.
“I think what helped is I always played with older kids growing up,” said Kearns, now a senior. “It seemed every year, I was playing with kids two or three years older than me. As a freshman here, I think that paid off big-time, knowing I played with kids older than me my whole life. There was no difference when I got here.”
Kearns started eight games at right tackle in 2006, missing only two in the middle of the season due to an injury, and he has been a fixture on Bentley’s offensive line for four straight years.
When the Falcons (5-1) host Southern Connecticut State University on Friday night, Kearns will again be at right tackle, giving Bentley reliability in his 36th career start.
The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Bridgewater resident made such an impression in training camp as a freshman that he stepped right into the lineup, setting the stage to be a rare four-year starter.
“He was one of those freshman lineman who was unique,” said Coach Thom Boerman. “The last one we had who started as a freshman was Mackenzy Bernadeau, and he’s with the Carolina Panthers now.
“Kevin is just solid. He really responded well to coaching and worked hard. He was just physically ready. A lot of times, freshmen are immature, both physically and emotionally. He was neither. He was ready to go, physically and mentally.
“He made his mistakes. He made the mistakes that freshmen will make. He refined his technique. He did an excellent job doing what was asked of him.
“He’s been an excellent player for us. We’re very pleased with how he progressed. He is a senior leader. I think that he’s one of the best linemen in the (Northeast-10 Conference) right now.”
Kearns, a former Enterprise All-Scholastic, wasn’t planning on being a starter when he got to the Waltham school.
After being recruited by most of the NE-10 teams, Kearns figured he would learn the ropes that season and get more playing time as a sophomore.
“They talked to me beforehand and said they’d really like me to step up and play, but as a freshman, I wasn’t expecting much,” said Kearns, who threw the shot put at B-R. “I just thought I’d have to learn the system still and pay my dues and, eventually, I’d see the field. But I ended up being thrown in right away.
“Just the speed and strength of every player you were going against was so much different. In high school, a lot of times, I was bigger than the other kids on the other teams, but I was probably one of the smallest people on our offensive line that year going against seniors in college that were 22 and I was 18 at the time.
“As a kid (right out of) high school, it was a huge jump getting used to all that. I’m my own worst critic, but as a freshman I guess I did what was probably expected of me. I probably would have liked to have played better, but I think I’ve gotten better every year I’ve been here.”
Kearns was moved to left tackle as a sophomore to be next to Bernadeau, who wound up being drafted in the seventh round by the Panthers after the 2007 season.
“We ended up playing well together,” he said. “He was a big influence. I would hang out with him on and off the field. He would teach me all the little stuff, the little tips that you don’t always know.”
Kearns, who went back to right tackle as a junior in 2008, had to learn more about pass blocking after playing for a team that ran most of the time at B-R.
“Coming to Bentley, there was a lot of passing the ball and I never really pass blocked at Bridgewater-Raynham,” he said. “(Bernadeau) showed you the footwork, what to do on certain plays.
“I feel like I’m an all-around player now. I came in strictly as a run blocker and I’m definitely more athletic now that I’ve been here for four years doing all our offseason program work and the in-season work.
“I like to say I’m balanced (as a blocker), but I think my pass blocking is probably my strength right now. It came a long way.”
From the start in ‘06 when he was an untested freshman to the present when he is one of the better lineman in the NE-10, Kearns has given Bentley consistency.
“He doesn’t make mistakes,’’ said Boerman. “He grades out high every single game. We’re going to miss him. He’s just been one of those rock-solid kids since he got here.”