ATHENS — It is always easy to know when Labor Day weekend is approaching. It is not just the heat and the glory of the crepe myrtle’s blooming, it is the bustling mood on campus. The sorority girls, as fresh and becoming as the crepe myrtles, and the frat boys anxious to organize their keg parties, help lift the spirits — a reminder that football here, front and center.
Traffic picks up and visitors drop by, unannounced. You can count on two questions when they plop down in your office: Who’s gonna start at quarterback? And how’s Chubb’s knee looking? My answer is that I can tell you at halftime of the North Carolina game. Naturally, that is not the answer they are looking for.
The passion for the tiniest morsel of information about those two players, Kirby Smart and the Georgia football program is in the forefront of all Dawgs of all ages. It has been that way for many years even with the changing of times, principally the Internet. Today’s passionate fans are literally in the coaching staff’s lap, owing to technology.
“How does Eason look?”
“Don’t know, haven’t been to practice.”
“You mean you work here and the team is right under your nose and you don’t watch practice?”
“If I watch practice, I can’t get my work done.”
Disbelief ensues, making one recall the days of the past when the late Dan Magill would try to clear his desk in the morning in an era when he wore three hats: Bulldog Club Secretary, Tennis Coach and Sports Information director. Lunch was a sandwich from the Lyons Pharmacy, ferried to his office so he could continue his non-stop routine. During lunch and afterwards he would come up with a couple of feature ideas on one of the Georgia players and/or coaches. It would be statistically relevant, accompanied by colorful and revealing insight. He had his story mimeographed to hand out to the writers (there was seldom, if ever any broadcasters hanging out,) who more often than not, incorporated the Magillian insight into the lead of their stories the next day.
Lately, I have been telling all questioners my take on Jacob Eason. I spent a weekend hanging around him and his parents for Maxwell Awards which the Maxwell Committee of Philadelphia hosts annually at Atlantic City, back in early March.
After a three-day sojourn to the popular resort city of Atlantic City, Eason deftly folded his 6-5, 240 pound body (he put on 20 pounds in the winter…in the weight room, not the training table) into a stretch limousine that would take him to the Philadelphia airport for a flight to Atlanta and sighed, “I’m ready for home.”
For the legion of Georgia fans, who are into everything Eason says and does, that should elevate emotions. He immediately considered Athens home after enrolling in class at Georgia in early January. But there was an endearing attachment to the campus and with locals from the start, as the Bulldog faithful treated him as if he were an established star with each passing week replicating old home week. Georgia hospitality is patronized by the homefolk as especial. The goal is to make the unwashed aware, too. This young prodigy and his family are well aware. They not only like it, they are eager to patronize all things Red and Black.
Jacob had flown to his hometown of Lake Stevens, Wash., for spring break and then back across the country to Philadelphia for the Maxwell Awards ceremony in Atlantic City, his parents, Tony and Christine, accompanying him. He was chosen by the Maxwell Football Club as the national high school player of the year, the last high school award to come his way. He is now on to bigger things.
Recognized wherever he goes, he has a polite and genial style and seems at peace with his celebrity, not seeking attention, but compatible with the demands that come with being a “can’t miss” prospect. He has met countless people in the last four years, but no 6-2, 240-pound linebackers, who not only can be in his face in seconds, but also the type who bring his way more than a modicum of contempt. They’ll all have a wont to blemish his sparkling resume.
There will always be a cynical view, and there will be a question about the competition he has faced, nothing like what a quarterback in our state encounters in the makeup of the hard-nosed AAAAAA regions in South Georgia, which is intensified on the playing fields of the rugged Southeastern Conference. And not to be discounted in the least — the almighty expectations which have been body blows for all too many would-be superstars. Lest we forget, Eason is not accustomed to taking a snap from center, but that is the way it was for Aaron Murray, who turned out okay.
However, there is much to appreciate about Jacob. There is height, some alacrity to his movement, arm strength and statistical sheets, if placed in a stack, would equal the summit of Mt. Rainer. Everybody’s All-American, Jacob is the All-American boy. A limited exposure was convincing that he is a well-rounded, well-grounded young man who has balance in his life. He has an added bonus in that few superstars enjoy the parental stability that is his good fortune.
After all, we are dealing with a father who is a fireman and a mother who works in the local school system. Life has purpose. Modesty and humility are underscored as well as cheers and touchdown passes.
Opportunity not entitlement is the Eason way. Manners and responsible behavior are expected. Being considerate is more important than being impressed with yourself. Scholarship. Citizenship. Friendship. Those are as valuable as touchdown bombs to this family of five. (Jacob has a younger sister and an older brother).
For the better part of a busy weekend, I watched him move about with a measured cadence, which was confirmation that his presence in the huddle and the pocket should bode well for the Georgia offense. Progressions, ability to audible and decision-making on the run should be something he can master because he is engaged and motivated to succeed. He likes the SEC, its reputation and the challenge. That he is a neophyte in the nation’s leading football league is a signature moment in his life.
Jacob has found himself taking a liking to Southern cooking. He is not finicky, not hard to please, so he doesn’t expect much of the chef. More importantly, he finds himself compatible with a different menu. He is simply an aspiring teenager with his hand firmly on the tiller with an ability to invoke adjustment when required. Learning a new lifestyle and culture requires a positive attitude, and he is all in.
Georgia fans need to thank Mike Bobo, who was the first to become aware of Jacob and his head-turning assets and the easy-going rhetoric of Mark Richt. However, for a graphic testimony, which speaks to the cogency of Kirby Smart as a recruiter, Eason was taken by the current head coach’s “professionalism,” in finalizing the process. A telling addendum was tacked on in that Jacob’s renewed commitment to Georgia was enhanced by Smart’s hiring of Jim Chaney, who once tutored Drew Brees, of the New Orleans Saints. To appreciate Eason’s insightfulness, he further underscores passion and appreciation for the hiring of Sam Pittman, the highly regarded offensive line coach. A man who can coach and recruit large and resourceful lineman is a man who can make a difference in the execution of the game plan, to say nothing of a quarterback’s career. With the bent of a historian, Jacob checked out such fact and synopsis in his decision-making routine.
Jacob’s maturity is a hallmark. He came west to east and immediately indulged himself in relationships. Too busy, too curious and too occupied with his commitment to Georgia to become homesick, he has about a dozen of close friends (teammates) of all descriptions with whom he hangs, enjoying the moment and looking forward to the journey.
When he turns 19, two days before the Louisiana-Lafayette game in Sanford Stadium, Nov. 19th, there may be singing of praises of the heralded Dawg quarterback. Of course, there could be disappointment, but based on the intangibles in his makeup and the savvy coaching he will get, makes one sense he will eventually be in step with Rudyard Kipling’s, “If.”
“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
“Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
“If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
“If all men count with you, but none too much,
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
“With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
“Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
“And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”
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