Titans' message? Eat right, play hard every day

Jevon Kearse pictured with Connor Tharpe, a first-grader at Oak View Elementary School in Franklin, Tenn.
FRANKLIN, TN, Nov. 11, 2008 — Jevon Kearse lives up to his nickname as the Freak with a sculpted, muscular body now in his 10th NFL season. That doesn't mean the Tennessee defensive end doesn't know how to have a little fun.

The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Kearse wore a pink headband given to him by a first-grade student Tuesday for a couple minutes while jumping rope. He also handed off footballs and even ran around the gym as part of the NFL's "Take a Player to School" program trying to spread the message to eat right and exercise.

"There's lots of things that can keep you inside the house sitting on your butt. It's good for someone like myself to come and let you know, 'Hey, you've got to get outside.' We didn't get where we were by being inside the house all day. We got outside and had some fun and ran around," Kearse said.

"Even if it was just 60 minutes a day, that 60 minutes a day, it can do a lot for you later on in life."

The NFL has been picking students from across the country to take a player from a local team to school to help promote its exercise program Play 60, currently in its second year. Each school picked also receives a donation of gym equipment including footballs, resistance bands, cones and jump ropes.

The message hits home in Tennessee where the state ranks fourth nationally for childhood obesity and in the top five for Type II diabetes in children, according to the advocacy group Trust for America's Health. In 2006, Tennessee's school health report found 41 percent of all students are overweight or "at risk" of being overweight.

So Kearse met first-grader Connor Tharpe for a breakfast of fruit at the boy's home. They took a limousine to Oak View Elementary School where his classmates waited outside to greet them with each wearing the player's jersey — each with tape separating his 90 number on the front to symbolize the Titans' 9-0 start as the NFL's last undefeated team.

Then Kearse told all the students how he had been described as a "tweener" when he came into the NFL in 1999 — too small to play defensive end and too big for linebacker. He wound up being named the Defensive Rookie of the Year. He also detailed how much studying NFL players do each week.

If the Titans didn't study hard, "We'd be 0-9 right now," Kearse said.

Kearse complimented Tharpe for being able to do knuckle push-ups and having earned a black belt at the age of 7, skills he said he studied a bit himself to help him slap down the hands of an offensive lineman.

And neither Tharpe nor Kearse ever quit smiling during the nearly two-hour visit.

"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't going to have fun and enjoy it," Kearse said.

On Wednesday, the Titans turn their attention to visiting Jacksonville on Sunday.

"We're not even looking at the 10-0 thing," Kearse said. "We're looking at one-game seasons. We're looking forward to get this next win right now. We're all about Jacksonville. ... Anytime you play at someone else's home, they have the advantage so we have our work cut out."

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