ATHENS – Jacob Eason got through his biggest test of the 2017 season. He finally met with the media Monday night. There were no casualties. It all should be downhill from here.
I’m joking, of course. Eason being interviewed after practice Monday was no big deal to him, nor was it to the media, quite frankly. The dude has been talking to reporters since he was a sophomore at Lake Stevens High in Washington state. It’s not an uncomfortable situation for him. He’s pretty good at it, actually.
This is why I always thought it was so silly how protective coach Kirby Smart was of Eason last season and, to some extent, heading into this one. Smart shielded Eason from the media all last year, even while Eason was starting the last 11 games of the regular season. The gag order was finally lifted before the Liberty Bowl.
Access has been limited to Eason since then as well. He was available in the postgame locker room after G-Day, then nothing until Monday.
I had started to wonder when we might hear from him again. Eason wasn’t at SEC Media Days earlier this summer – as most established starting quarterbacks are – and he wasn’t present at UGA’s preseason news conference on July 31. When he was requested but not made available at Georgia’s offensive players day this past week, I thought, “Uh-oh, here we go again.”
Now, believe me, I realize complaining about media access goes over like a lead balloon with fans. I get that and am prepared to absorb the criticism. But that’s really not my point. My point is this really is about you, the fan.
First of all, Georgia’s coaches need to relax and trust Eason and get behind their starting quarterback. Slowly, I think that’s happening here. But, as has always been the case in football, and with the Bulldogs in particular, your quarterback is the face of your team. He’s supposed to be front and center. He’s supposed be a team spokesman.
I appreciate that Eason is still in somewhat of a competition with Jake Fromm for his job. I realize that he’s still a sophomore and is young and hasn’t really won anything yet.
But he is the starting quarterback for the University of Georgia. He executed to varying degrees of success more than 800 offensive plays for the Bulldogs last season. He’s going to be the man in charge heading into this season. There’s a level of responsibility and tradition that comes with that. That includes talking to the press.
Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray and even Hutson Mason talked to reporters every week, just like David Greene and D.J. Shockley before them. Regularly, they fulfilled special requests from the media for extended interviews so college football fans could get to know them better. It goes with the territory.
By the time their careers ended, these were endearing figures to Georgia fans. They felt as if they had a personal relationship with these dynamic young men who worked so hard week in and week out to prepare for the next game.
Eason’s an interesting figure, indeed. A former 5-star prospect and No. 2 rated quarterback in America at the time, as ranked by the 247Sports composite, he’s a high-profile athlete on a high-profile team.
And I happen to think he’s pretty darn good. Eason has a reputation on fan pages and in chat rooms, at least, of being sort of a casual personality who doesn’t take his craft too seriously. It’s probably just because the kid is nearly 6-foot-6 and is good looking and has long hair. Or, at least, used to.
Smart makes it clear he doesn’t see his young quarterback that way at all.
“I think Jacob is a great quarterback,” Smart said. “I think he’s somebody who understands our system. He works really hard. Jacob comes in and meets extra every chance he gets. A lot of the things you have heard about Jacob may not be true. I don’t know who your sources are; you haven’t told me your sources, but I think he does a tremendous job of trying to lead the team.”
My takeaway from our brief interaction with Eason was that this kid gets it. He said all the right things, and I believe he’s doing all the right things behind the scenes. He may or may not be the next great quarterback at Georgia, but he’s an intelligent young man who knows what he’s doing and is well-versed in handling his position on the team.
“I look back at it and I’m still early in my transition, going into my second year,” Eason said of the struggles he encountered last season and the things he’s trying to improve for this one. “Obviously it was a huge jump going from Washington high school football to the SEC. But, like I said before, I’m glad I did it. It was a challenge but it was a challenge worth doing.”
We won’t know for a while yet whether Jacob Eason is going to be the next big thing for Georgia at quarterback or just another college athlete who did his best but came up short of expectations. Regardless, whatever Eason becomes won’t be dictated by tightly controlling media access to him.
If anything, seeing and hearing from Eason and getting to know him better as a person might help the cause.