Just before he boarded a plane to represent the University of Miami at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff, gifted graduate transfer receiver K.J. Osborn — a Biletnikoff Award candidate and possibly the most impressive Miami Hurricane this offseason — called his mom, Valerie, for a pep talk.
“I said, ‘K.J., if you’re answering a question, remember to say ‘Yes’ — not ‘Yeah.’ “
“Yeah, Mom,” the 22-year-old Osborn replied, likely rolling his eyes.
“I said, ‘You mean, Yes, Mom,’ ’’ his mother repeated, knowing full well her son was kidding.
“Yes, Mom,’’ K.J. finally said, followed by a laugh.
Please excuse Osborn — who played four years at Buffalo and grew up in the biting cold of Ypsilanti, Michigan, only 15 minutes from the University of Michigan Wolverines who never even gave him a sniff recruiting-wise — if he slipped in a “Yeah’’ here and there during lengthy interviews with reporters last week. That might be his only transgression during his final year of playing college football and studying for his masters in criminal justice.
Valerie Osborn, a dental hygienist, and K.J.’s dad, Kendrick, who drives a tractor-trailer filled with automotive parts to supply Ford, Tesla, and Chrysler, couldn’t be prouder.
“He’s a self-proclaimed mama’s boy,’’ Valerie said of K.J., who is for the most part quiet, though a former video news production class taught him to be overly generous with words when answering reporters. “K.J. is all about business. I think he’ll have to work on a little Miami swag.’’
Osborn, whose given name is Kendrick Ladell (K.J. is informal for Kendrick Jr.), arrived in Coral Gables this past January. He caught 53 passes for 892 yards with seven touchdowns in 2018 and has done little in the swag category except work day and night in his quest to help return the glory to the team for which he still can’t believe he plays.
“First, I mean I love Miami,’’ Osborn said. “When people ask me how is Miami, I tell them Miami is everything you think it is, everything. ... It’s amazing. .. .I love coach,’’ he said of Manny Diaz — “his energy, his vibe, what his vision was for the program, what he wanted to do, ‘The New Miami,’ bringing some of that old-school Miami back and putting us back where we need to be.
“Easy to speak to. Tremendous person. Tremendous coach, father. I’m really happy with the decision I made.’’
Osborn chose Miami over his other finalist, Florida State, after eliminating his third choice of North Carolina. He was brought to the Hurricanes not only because he is clearly a substantial talent — he not only is deceptively fast but is a skilled punt and kickoff returner — but for his maturity and intelligence and obvious leadership skills that can help teach a receiving corps loaded with talented youth.
Diaz has said repeatedly that Osborn impressed him as much or more than any other player since he arrived on campus. The coach surprised many by choosing Osborn, a newcomer, along with Diaz’s other beloved leader on defense, linebacker Shaq Quarterman, to represent the program last week in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“What we are doing at Miami is rebranding ourselves,’’ Diaz said. “We have to stop being known for having a team with a bunch of talented guys. We have to go back to being a bunch of hard-working guys. You win at Miami by recruiting our footprint, then outworking everybody else.
“To bring a guy like K.J. into our program, we are very young in the wide-receiver room. We felt like we lacked leadership at that position a year ago. K.J. texted me at 8:45 p.m. one night. ‘Coach, can we get the lights on at the indoor facility? I want to catch balls out of the Jugs [machine].’
“That’s what we needed, a guy that could show our young players who do have ability how to become a big-time guy.’’
Deadpanned Diaz: “If K.J. came [to the ACC media days] every year, we would have to turn this into a four-day event. He has some long answers.’”
Osborn played his final high-school season at Bradenton’s IMG and was a teammate of former UM offensive lineman Tyree St. Louis and current defensive end Scott Patchan, with whom he conferred when making his decision to transfer.
He was floored when he received the email from UM saying he was chosen to attend the ACC Kickoff. “I was thinking the same way as you guys, like ‘I’m a grad transfer. I haven’t played one down in a Miami uniform.’ I texted coach and thanked him and told him I didn’t take that lightly.’’
Osborn, who said the season opener Aug. 24 against Florida “will be the biggest game I’ve ever played in,’’ is enamored of the UM legends whom he has met along the way — Michael Irvin, Jon Beason, Santana Moss, Allen Hurns, Ed Reed, and more.
“They talk about all the hard work ... not just the talent, but extra work, what they did after practice, how they pushed each other, how they got each other better in the summer, what the standard was back then and how I should keep it now.’’
On the field, the 6-0, 205-pound Osborn has impressed. In the spring game in April at Camping World Stadium, he put together another excellent performance, highlighted by an 80-yard touchdown from Tate Martell. He pulled in the catch on a post route, bumped off a defender, then outran the defense for the final 60 yards.
“It’s a play they ran a lot at Alabama,’’ he said of the call by new UM offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who came to UM from the Crimson Tide. “[Alabama star wideout] Jerry Jeudy scored on it a couple times. I knew it could be a big play.’’
Osborn’s mom said that although he is serious, he does have a funny side and loves to play board games. He is religious and relishes going to church. When he was a youngster, he collected Hot Wheels cars and would carry around a Woody doll from “Toy Story.” He also had unbridled energy and got into mischief from time to time.
“He liked adventures,’’ said his dad. “When he was about 8 years old he would climb up on the roof, run down it to get momentum and jump down a 10-foot span into the pool — over and over.’’
Then there was the time when K.J. “was about 7 and threw his 6-year-old cousin into the pool and kept yelling, ‘Swim! Swim!’ ’’ Valerie said. “His dad came out and saved his cousin.”
Osborn also is meticulously clean. After his parents divorced when he was 8, his mom started a cleaning business to help pay for dental-hygiene school. One of her contracts was with a Honda dealership, where he and his sister would empty the trash and vacuum.
Osborn’s mom and dad divorced several years ago but still share stories about K.J., whose 20-year-old sister, Kiera, attends Eastern Michigan on a full academic scholarship. Both parents will be at the season opener.
He said his mother and father motivate him. “Both are very hard-working people,’’ Osborn said.
His goals off the field: To finish his masters when he leaves Miami.
His goals on it: “Continue to be sharp in my routes [and] play at a fast pace. I take a lot of pride in YAC [yards after catch]. Being a weapon, I can play inside and outside. You can depend on me on third down — really good hands, being physical at the line of scrimmage and being a really good blocker. I want to check all the boxes.
“The ultimate goal is just to win.’’
▪ Sophomore tight end Brevin Jordan and senior linebackers Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman were named Tuesday to the Preseason All-ACC Team.