It’s amazing how life can change on a dime. That’s certainly the case with Eoghan Kerry.
The 16-year-old high school junior had never even donned a football helmet and pads when he stepped onto the Centennial campus in August of 2018.
Now, two years later, the former basketball and track and field athlete is preparing to play for national high school power Santa Ana-Mater Dei with a pair of offers to play college football — and several Pac-12 schools showing interest in the 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker.
“I’m crazy excited,” said Kerry, who recently decided to transfer from Centennial following his first varsity football season where he earned honorable mention BVarsity All-Area honors last year. “I’m super sad to leave the Centennial family. I love my coaches and teammates, and teachers and administration there. But I’m crazy excited to be going to such a big school. They’re a powerhouse and I can’t wait to get on the field with them and show what I can do.”
But to only tell the story of Kerry’s rising stature on the gridiron would be missing a very large piece of who he is.
Academics have always been a priority in his household, with his mother, Erin Miller, leading the charge as a college history professor.
That pursuit of academic and athletic excellence — coupled with the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic — has led to some unexpected opportunities.
What started as a pipe dream, inspired in part by family friend Bailey Stout, led to a real discussion about transferring to one of the top private schools in the country. Stout, a local standout basketball player, decided to make the move to Mater Dei, playing for the Monarchs from 2012-16, a time when the school won a national title and two CIF state open division championships.
Just for kicks, Kerry applied for admission to Mater Dei in January, but never completed the process. But the school continued to send reminder emails and when campuses were forced to switch to online learning, Miller started looking into possible alternatives.
“Honestly, at that time it was kind of like a joke,” Miller recalled. “Like ‘hey, can I get in?’ It would be like me applying to Harvard. I would never expect to get in. It wasn’t even a decision that we thought we were going to have the opportunity to make.”
But much to her surprise, her son was accepted.
While she was still skeptical about making the move, she started looking into Mater Dei and what they offered. Although she says she was very happy with her experience at Centennial, the uncertainty about distance learning coupled with some of the things a private school can offer — a hybrid learning curriculum featuring some onsite classes, a spiritual support system, a dress code and smaller class sizes — all served to support that this was the right move for her son.
After talking to a few close friends, she started the process of transferring.
“A lot of it for me as a parent is being risk averse,” said Miller, who is finalizing plans to move to Orange County. “I wanted to get other people’s opinions because there are people in this world who take risks that they never should have taken. And it costs them dearly. And then there are people that should have taken a risk but fail to embrace the challenge. I wanted to embrace the opportunity for him instead of being my usual risk-averse self.”
In her mind, the opportunity to have her son play football at Mater Dei was a bonus, one that most assuredly will give him an opportunity to play on a national stage.
Since opening its doors in 1950, the Monarchs have won four national championships while posting a 562-202 record and producing two Heisman Trophy winners while playing against one of the toughest schedules each year.
“I’m super excited to work with the coaches and players at Mater Dei and to see what we can do together,” Kerry said. “Their defense is super intense and super fast, and I’m excited to be a part of that. And then the national recognition. They are a contender for the national title every year. And I think elevating myself to that stage and that level of play will really help me up my game, as well as increase my visibility in the college recruiting world.”
Kerry’s emergence as a college recruit began to take root when he started working with trainer Dejon Jernagin, who doubles as the director for California Recruits which provides college placement assistance for student athletes.
“He came to one of my workouts and I was blown away,” Jernagin said. “I was saying, ‘who is this dude?’ I mean, how is there a 6-foot-3, 230-pound kid running like a 4.6 (40-yard dash)? Huh? Who brought him? I watched the kid move and I’m saying, ‘there is nobody in the country that knows who this kid is.’”
Jernagin was so impressed that he called the coach at Nevada where his son Isaac is a freshman wide receiver. After sharing a tape, the Wolf Pack offered Kerry a scholarship over the phone. Bethel College, an NAIA college in Kansas, also made an offer and several larger schools began to show interest after he attended camps at USC and UCLA prior to the coronavirus shutdown.
Although still considered a raw talent, with just one year of varsity high school experience, Kerry’s speed and size has been too much for college recruiters to ignore. In addition to running a 4.5 40-yard dash, Kerry says he also has a 36-inch vertical, enabling him to dunk a basketball with ease.
That athleticism was originally developed as a basketball and track and field athlete as a youngster. As a 5-11, 170-pound eighth-grader, Kerry won the central Section championship in the high jump and was second in the 100 hurdles. He also benefitted from working with trainer Brian Orosco and Tempest Freerunning Academy in the South Bay which helped him with his agility.
“He played basketball and did other training all the way up until high school and never really understood that while he was out there he was cross-training for football,” Jernagin said. “He didn’t know that the footwork he learned playing basketball and other training was going to help him be a better football player.”
He was 6-1 and 190 pounds as a freshman, but as he continued to grow to his current size, his speed remained. After playing frosh-soph basketball and football as a freshman, Kerry decided to focus on football heading into his sophomore season. He began training with Chris Dukakis and Cole Anderson, adding 40 pounds muscle to his growing frame, and with it, the confidence that he can play at the next level.
“I was very fortunate enough to be blessed with speed and athleticism,” Kerry said. “I’m just trying to work hard to improve. I just want to be the best that I can be. And I feel like this opportunity will help me get there.”