ATHENS – If you look up into the trees you’ll see them. They are the leaves that are just giving up. Some are already changing color. Fall is upon them, change is inevitable and there’s no sense in hanging on any longer. Might as well just let go and let the next season begin.
It’s the same with the Georgia Bulldogs and their quarterback. It may be only early September, but change is in the air. Their quarterback of the future is already on campus and has been toiling with the team since January.
There’s no time like the present. It’s time for Jacob Eason.
UGA confirmed Friday what DawgNation.com and some other publications reported Thursday night, that Eason will start at quarterback Saturday in the Bulldogs’ home opener against Nicholls State. But signs have been pointing in that direction for a while now.
The 6-foot-6, 242-pound freshman played extensively as a backup to Greyson Lambert in the Bulldogs’ 33-24 win over North Carolina last Saturday in the Georgia Dome. But when you come all the way across the continental U.S. as the No. 1-rated pocket passer in America and you’re considered the Gatorade and Bobby Dodd national player of the year, as Eason was, you’re not expected to wait around in the wings.
Front and center is where Eason expects to be, and that’s where he’ll be on Saturday when the Bulldogs kickoff at noon.
“That’s all he’s done his whole life, be the quarterback,” said Eason’s best friend, Josh Rasmussen, a University of Washington freshman football player reached in Seattle on Friday. “There’s really not anything else left to be expected of him. I’m super excited for him. That’s a hard thing to do, to start as a true freshman at quarterback at an SEC school like Georgia. I’m sure he would’ve liked to start in the first game.”
In Lake Stevens, Wash., it was 44 degrees when day broke Friday morning, and already the news was filtering through the community. They’re ahead of us in the seasons in the Pacific Northwest and they were ahead of us when it came to the career arc of Eason as well.
They could have told you a while ago that the no-longer-so-skinny kid they call “Skinny” would be the Bulldogs’ anointed quarterback sooner rather than later.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Tom Tri, head coach at Lake Stevens High, who oversaw Eason throwing for more than 10,000 yards and 99 touchdowns as a prep. “I think the coaching staff at Georgia knows exactly what they’re doing. Looks like they played him week one but didn’t start him. They got him in there, put him in some crucial moments and I think Jake played fairly well. They’re just kind of slow-playing him a little, if that’s possible starting the second game.”
Lake Stevens, Wash., sits about 30 miles north of Seattle and is, quite literally, a city built around a lake. Out there, they’ve watched Eason continue to grow and grow physically and develop as a quarterback to the point he became the most vigorously-pursued football recruit ever in that part of the country.
There, in that bedroom community of professionals, the high school represents the heartbeat of the residents. Like the lake that sits in the middle, everything revolves around the school and its activities. And for the last four years, Jacob Eason has been a primary attraction.
So there was a little bit of disappointment when Eason decided to take his talents nearly 3,000 miles away. But there was also the understanding that Eason and his family wanted him to fully immerse in the greatest challenge he could find in football, which was to compete in the toughest league in the land – the SEC.
So Lake Stevens remains very much behind their quarterback.
“His hometown is really, really rooting for him,” said John Spencer, mayor of Lake Stevens. “He’s a terrific kid. Everybody who knows him around here will tell you that he’s a really solid person with a great personality. He’s really got it squared away. We are just thrilled that he’s going to get his first start. He all watched him win that first game along with that terrific running back.
“So we’re rooting for the Bulldogs as well as Eason, until they reach a point they have to play our University of Washington Huskies. Then there may be change of allegiance.”
They’ve had to move on at Lake Stevens High. The community is behind a new football phenom at quarterback. Conor Bardue is a junior and got his first start on Sept. 2 in a road game against Stanwood. All he did was complete 17-of-20 passes for 380 yards and seven touchdowns in a 54-8 win.
Friday night, all the focus in Lake Stevens was on their home opener against Arlington (1-0). But come Saturday morning, their attention will shift back to Eason and what’s happening with the hometown kid and those Georgia Bulldogs.
Coach Tri and his staff will gather on the west side of the lake at Hawkeye’s Sports Bar & Restaurant in an area that’s known as Frontier Village. They serve a good breakfast at Haweye’s and have a bunch of TVs, including those that carry the sometimes-hard-to-find SEC Network.
“They’ve got the SEC, the Pac-12, ESPN on 12 or 15 televisions,” Tri said. “So we’ll go in there, have a little breakfast and coffee, talk about Friday night’s game and watch Jacob play. I have a feeling they’ll open up the offense for him a little bit. Should be fun to watch.”
They’re saying the same thing in 3,000 miles away.