It was April 2011 when the first member of Arizona’s 2012 recruiting class announced his verbal commitment.
Josh Kern was a two-star quarterback from San Antonio without any other scholarship offers to speak of. But he liked Mike Stoops, and he loved quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo.
He loved the UA so much on his visit during Arizona’s spring that he decided “why wait?”
By that November, things had changed.
Now it’s 2016, and Kern’s college career is over. It was a rough five years.
Kern lost the coaches who recruited him. He moved to a new position, tight end.
He lost a best friend and someone he considered a younger brother.
Kern lost his health, too: A back injury suffered this fall ruined any chance of a breakout season.
Kern caught one pass for nine yards in his final college game, last week’s 56-35 win over Arizona State. His career stats are modest: 13 career catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story, though.
Many close to the UA program consider him a locker room leader and the most valuable teammate.
Kern gave the eulogy at Zach Hemmila’s funeral after the Wildcats center died in August. A year earlier, Kern was a pallbearer at the funeral of Andrew Valdez, a 19-year-old UA superfan who died of cystic fibrosis. The Valdez family joined him for senior night last week.
Kern is unlikely to play pro football, but won’t be slowing down. His dream job — firefighter — fits his personality perfectly.
“Josh is always somebody who, if you need him, he’s always going to be there, no matter what,” wide receiver Trey Griffey said. “Sometimes there are teams that players once they leave the locker room, they’re off on their own. But with Josh, he’s not. He’ll text you ‘Hey, what are you doing today? You wanna come over? You wanna do this, you wanna do that?
“Josh would win the teammate award for the whole country.”
The Star talked to Kern as his career wound down. Here’s what he had to say, in his own words. …
“This whole season, even though it hasn’t been what we want it to be, it’s the last one and being here for five years you’re not going to take the last opportunities you have for granted so I’m going to try and make the most of this.
“I mean, (the losses) are not what you’d picture for a senior year. I don’t blame the fans at all, we haven’t been putting a product on the field. We’re just as disappointed, if not more than they are. It sucks, but we’re trying to make the most out of it.
“Coach Rod when he came in, he didn’t have to honor our scholarships. I’m just so grateful they did and it’s been the best five years of my life and like I said, even though this year wasn’t like we wanted, I wouldn’t change a thing.
“Roller coaster is a good word for my career. I mean, I owe everything to the coaching staff, coach (Charlie) Ragle and coach (Calvin) Magee and coach Rod and the strength staff. Without them the transition (to tight end) never would’ve worked, and I’m sure they lost some hair over me but it’s made me a stronger person …
“Everyone always asks me, when something like that happens, why don’t you transfer? I came here to play football, not quarterback. The easy way out would’ve been to transfer and go and try and play quarterback somewhere else and I just wanted to take the challenge and see if I could do it and I think it all worked out pretty well.
“I’m leaving happy with what I’ve done. I feel like I’ve contributed as much as I can and I don’t feel like I’ll regret anything.
“It’s been a crazy process. Now it’s down to me, Cody (Ippolito) and Trey and we’re the last guys from the 2012 class, Zach (Hemmila) is the fourth, and it’s just crazy all the guys that have been here and left, and it was just us four. We were such a close-knit group just us four, so it’s been crazy not having (Hemmila) around. We wish we could’ve honored him a little bit better throughout the season but you can’t look back and regret anything.
“It’s stuff like Zach and Andrew (Valdez) where I’ll complain about running sprints or working out then you’re just like, there’s so much worse things in life then what we’re doing. There’s much more to life than football. Looking at the big picture, it’s helped me grow as a person and I wish it wouldn’t have happened this way, but it is what is, it happened, and I’m trying to deal with it the best I can. …
“My plan is to get involved in the fire department. The problem with that is, if I decide to pursue football, the application process is at the same time so it’s a big decision I gotta make. It’s just something that, when I leave football, we have so many opportunities to do community service and I think helping people is one of the best things you can do. I want a job … I can’t be behind a desk, typing on a computer all day for a boss I don’t even really know. I want a job where I can be out in the community and helping out my family and friends and I can go home at night and be proud of myself for what I’m doing.”