FRISCO, Texas – Asked if there will be any added motivation this week heading back to Minnesota, Jayron Kearse shook his head with an emphatic no.
How about any extra energy or excitement to play the team that drafted him back in 2016?
No, Kearse gave the usual "just another game" mantra.
But here's the good thing about Kearse going back to Minnesota, ready to play the Vikings on Sunday night: He doesn't need more energy or motivation.
One of the reasons he's played so well this season is because of that raw emotion, that fire he plays with that has not only made him one of the better players on defense, but a vocal leader as well.
"I'm just being who I am, and guys pick up on that," Kearse said of being a leader despite being in his first season with the Cowboys. "I've got to come in and continue to bring the energy because guys look at me as a leader."
Statistically, he's nearly the leader of the defense in tackles, entering the bye week with 35 stops, just one behind Anthony Brown.
Kearse is playing the safety position, but has also been used in what the Cowboys call "Big Nickel," which allows him to play close to the line of scrimmage on passing downs, similar to a linebacker.
When he was at Clemson, he often balked when his coaches tried to get him to move to linebacker, claiming that he was a safety and wanted to stay that way.
"It's ironic because it's the same thing I do now," Kearse admitted. "At the time, I was young and was like, 'You're trying to make me a linebacker. I'd rather just stay back.' But it's crazy because I do the exact same things now."
And that mindset is just one of a few changes in Kearse's maturation process.
Even dating back to when he was 14 years old, Kearse has had his share of off-the-field issues with various arrests that followed him to the NFL. In his last season with the Vikings in 2019, he was arrested after a traffic stop on DWI suspicion and possession of a firearm, leading to a probation sentence.
Kearse spent most of last season with the Lions and a few weeks with the Ravens before being signed in the offseason by the Cowboys.
"I think I have (grown up)," Kearse said. "My younger career, I didn't handle a lot of things the way I should have. With the experience and getting older, I understand things a lot more."
One of Kearse's biggest supporters is Cowboys defensive assistant George Edwards, who was the Vikings' defensive coordinator when they drafted Kearse. Edwards sees a much different person in Kearse, which has made him a better player.
"Yeah, he's grown up a lot. I'd say from my time in Minnesota, you could just see the maturity level, his concentration, his focus on his task and having a voice in the room," Edwards said. "Being able to communicate on the field, he's really grown a lot and it's showing in his play.
"He knows what to anticipate. That goes with his preparation from game to game and it goes with his preparation at practice. So he's doing a great job of communicating. It's good to see that he's matured and grown as much as he has and making good decisions on the field and off the field.
"You love to see that in a player, especially when you see him grow up as a youngster and see him develop into the player that he's become now. We're excited about him and look forward to moving forward with him."
But the best part about Kearse's maturation is that he still plays with the same fire and swagger, something Kearse himself takes a lot of pride in. Edwards is impressed that Kearse has been able to find that balance.
"He's getting the most out of his ability from day to day, which is helping him when we get to games," Edwards said. "He's getting the most out of his opportunities. So I'm excited for him, he's doing a good job for us thus far."
And the Cowboys will need Kearse to continue that play into Sunday's game with the Vikings, whether it comes with "extra" motivation or not. So far, what he's brought to the table has been good enough.