Patrick Kearns names Georgia Tech as one of his finalists

Patrick Kearns (Sonny Kennedy/Special for AJC)

Darlington offensive lineman Patrick Kearns has narrowed his college choices down to Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Kentucky and Virginia Tech and for Yellow Jackets fans that should be considered good news.

From a recruiting standpoint, he fits the mold for the type of player Jackets coach Paul Johnson covets – he has a high ceiling as a player, he values academics and he’s regarded as a high-character person by his coaches.

His recruitment has taken off this offseason as he’s gone from no football scholarship offers to nearly 20, with the Jackets becoming one of the most recent schools to offer.

“Georgia Tech was a little slower coming into my recruitment but I’m OK with that,” Kearns said of the Jackets’ offer, which came in early June.

Kearns has visited Georgia Tech twice, most recently a few weeks ago when he sat down with Johnson and offensive line coach Mike Sewak. The Jackets left a strong impression on Kearns, which his why they are one of his finalists.

“I really liked Coach Johnson,” Kearns said. “He was real up front about what the expectations are. They’re a great academic school and they have a great football team. It’s a great fit for me. I’ve been going to private school since pre-K, so I’m used to a rigorous academic load.”

Sewak painted a clear picture of how Kearns would fit in the Jackets’ option offense.

“I sat down with him and he took me through what they do on the line and how they come off it,” Kearns said. “It’s different from what I’ve seen from everyone else, but that’s not a bad thing because they’re winning.

“He also said if I come in and work really hard and have the right attitude, there could be a chance to play fairly early.”

As for the hard work and attitude, Kearns has that covered. Always one of the bigger players on the field since he began playing football in fourth grade, Kearns took his size to another level this offseason. In the six months since his junior season commenced, he’s added 40 pounds and now tops out at 275.

Spending time in the weight room outside of Darlington’s work out program, plus eating the right foods has led to his growth spurt. Darlington coach Thomas Atha has taken notice of his new-look lineman.

“He put in a ton of work this offseason,” Atha said. “He had the frame and size last year, but he really worked hard to prepare himself to be a recruitable Divison 1 player. We’ll certainly reap the benefits this upcoming season.”

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Kearns will play both ways for Darlington his senior season and look to push the team past its 9-2 record from last season, where Darlington won region 7-AA to advance to the playoffs. However, it’s on the offensive line where Kearns will play at the next level.

At the end of the 2014 season, Kearns was still working toward a coveted first scholarship offer. He would achieve that goal and exceed it with an outstanding performance at December’s all-star football game.

Kearns competed some of the state’s best defensive linemen – the talent pool included five-star Derrick Brown and four-stars Julian Rochester (a UGA commit), Charles Wiley (Ole Miss) and Tyler Clark (UGA) among others. College scouts were on hand for the practices and game.

Two weeks later, the offers started rolling in.

“First it was Illinois State,” Kearns said. “Then it was Mercer and then the floodgates opened.”

Atha attended the game and wasn’t surprised to see Kearns’ recruitment take off.

“That was the point at which coaches began to recruit him seriously,” Atha said. “They got to see him go against some of the best in the state and he did outstanding at guard. He stood out in practices and he got people’s attention.”

Kearns has visited three of his four finalists. He plans to visit the remaining school, Kentucky, this month and will make a decision soon thereafter. He said he doesn’t have a leader among the four at the moment, but does want to reach his decision before the start of the football season.

“I want to have it over with by the end of the summer so I don’t have to worry about it,” he said.

Whichever school Kearns chooses, that school won’t have to worry about him backing off. He said his recruiting process will end once he announces, and the only official visit he’ll take is to the school he commits to.

“When I commit, that’s it,” he said. “I’m done.”

In the meantime, he’ll continue his conditioning regimen and prepare for his senior season, when he’ll be one of Darlington’s team captains. When he’s not gearing up for football season, he enjoys fishing, hunting and bowling with his friends. Growing up on a farm all his life, he’s an avid outdoorsman.

“I love being all by myself in the woods,” he said. “There’s nothing like it. You don’t have to worry about anything, like who’s calling or texting. It’s just you by yourself in the wildlife and God’s creation. It’s awesome.”

Trumping all of his hobbies – including football – is academics. Kearns wants to become a doctor and will use his four years of scholarship eligibility to prepare him for medical school.

Darlington lineman Winston Gammon, who first began playing alongside Kearns when they were in fourth grade, has seen first-hand how Kearns balances football and school.

“Our sophomore year we had a morning walkthrough at 5 a.m.,” Gammon said. “He stayed up until 4 a.m. studying for a biology test. I thought that was crazy, but anyone to do that for both grades and his football team, that paints a good picture of his character.”

Becoming a doctor is a plan, but Kearns is still holding out hope for his ultimate dream – playing in the NFL.

“That’s a dream for everyone who plays college football,” he said. “But I’m not going to plan for it. I’m going to hope and work toward it.”

Kearns is rated as a 3-star and the state’s No. 107 overall prospect.