He’s a long way from home but in his nearly three weeks on the Georgia campus, Jacob Eason is truly having a ball.
Eason, the 6-5, 220-pound quarterback who was recognized by different recruiting services as the nation’s top quarterback and also No. 1 high school player, has blended well with the other five early enrollees at UGA and also has bonded with most of the other players who signed national letters-of-intent Wednesday with the Bulldogs, on National Signing Day.
Being over 2,000 miles from his home state of Washington Eason said, well, that’s not a problem.
“I look at that, my dad went to Notre Dame and it was the best place for him, no matter what the distance was, and I feel the same way,” Eason said. “I’m going to go to the place where it will be the best years of my life and have the most fun and that happens to be Georgia. I’m excited.”
In his short time on campus and as he goes through the rigors of the Bulldogs’ off-season conditioning program in getting ready for the beginning of spring practice in March, Eason said college football life is about as he expected.
“Regardless of where you go, there’s competition and obviously here there’s a little more than other places but that’s all part of it and I’m excited to see what happens, said Eason, who said he never really came close to wavering on his commitment to Georgia, even with the coaching changes,
And Eason is happy to report the strenuous off-season workouts are already paying off for him.
“With Coach Scott Sinclair in the weight room, I’ve been putting on weight in the three weeks I’ve been here, quite a bit of weight,” he declared. “It’s a lot of conditioning now but it’s college football and once you get your mind wrapped around it, there’s no excuses and stuff like that and the workouts come along with that. I’m just trying to do the best I can, be a leader, working with the other guys and all that comes along with that.”
While the guy who passed for more than 3,500 yards and 43 touchdowns this past season in his senior year at Lake Stevens High is just happy to be a Bulldog, he definitely has his eyes on becoming Georgia’s starting quarterback, if not this season as a freshmen then in the near future.
“I think that’s everybody’s goal,” said Eason. “That would be my goal but obviously the other guys here, Greyson (Lambert) and Brice (Ramsey) and all the other guys here, are great quarterbacks, too. I want to learn from them, learn from all the coaches and just buy into the system and whatever happens, happens and I’ll be excited with it.”
Eason is happy he could be throwing to the highly-touted Mecole Hardman, the nation’s No. 1-ranked athlete from Elbert County who signed with the Bulldogs first thing Wednesday morning, in future seasons in Sanford Stadium.
“I talk to him (Hardman) all the time,” Eason said. “We’re good buds. We’re so far apart but now we’re close. He committed today and that’s awesome and I’m excited to have him on the team. I talk to him a bunch, not only football-wise but what’s going on in basketball and school. Oh yeah, I knew he was going to sign today,” Eason said, smiling. “I’ve been talking to him … I’ve been trying to keep it a secret for a while now. He will bring speed, talent, hands to this team. He’s the fastest guy I’ve thrown to. He’s going to bring a lot of positive energy to the weight room, to the field. When guys are getting drowsy at practice due to long runs and so on, he’ll be the guy to pick up the energy and get guys going. With Mecole being such a good athlete, he can play both ways and he’ll go where coaches want him to go. He’ll be a threat on both the offensive and defensive side and that’s a great thing for Georgia to have.”
“But there’s a lot of good recruits coming in, both on the offensive and defensive side and I think the 2017 guys, when they see this class we have now, they’re going to want to be a part of it and keep things rolling,” concluded Eason. “With today finishing up, I think we have one more name out there with D-Rob (top-ranked wide receiver Demetrius Robertson from Savannah Christian) and hopefully we get him.”
In his earlier press conference with the media, head coach Kirby Smart said there should be no undue pressure on Eason as he embarks on his college football career.
“About Jacob, I don’t think the pressure’s on him as a freshman,” said Smart. “The pressure’s on me as the head coach. The pressure’s on me and Coach (offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney to protect him. There’s no pressure on him, no expectations on him. He’s a kid coming straight out of high school in mid-year and we’ve got 15 practices (in spring) and 27 or 28 practices in the fall to get him ready and prepared. So we’ve got to put him in good situations and be able to run the ball … if he’s the guy. We don’t want him coming in here thinking he’s got to win the job,” added Smart. “We’ve got some other guys too that played some football here last year. We’ve got to find what the best remedy for our offense is and that will be very important for spring practice. But to say it all falls on Jacob, I don’t think that’s the case. I have to take that burden myself.”
Defensive lineman Julian Rochester and tight end Isaac Nauta were the other two early enrollees meeting with the press Wednesday afternoon.
Both Rochester, a 6-5, 327-product of McEachern High out of Powder Springs, and Nauta, the 6-4, 237-pound Army All-America out of Buford High, who played last season at IMG Academy in Florida, said, like Eason, they’ve found the early stages of college football just as they thought it would be … time demanding and difficult. But the two also believe they’re making the adjustment well.
“But it’s definitely different from high school,” said Nauta. “Being from IMG, we didn’t have a ton of kids and you could walk around and it would be kind of easy but walking around here with 40,000 undergrads, just trying to get on a bus is difficult. And then that and everywhere you go you’re being recognized and that’s a bit of an adjustment but it’s a lot of fun. I’m loving it so far.
“We’ve actually got a little running to do today and Jacob and I might go throw, too,” Nauta said. “We’ve already got a few throwing sessions in, just working on our chemistry and getting back into the flow of things. In the weight room, we’ve just been competing and it’s been tough. It’s nothing I haven’t done before but just the amount of guys in there who can throw some weight around, it’s pretty crazy. There’s some animals in there so it’s been a lot of fun just competing and trying to get better.”
In his 2:15 p.m. press conference, Smart lauded Georgia’s six early enrollees.
“The six mid-year enrollees were critical for us having a successful class,” he said. “They could sell us as a staff better than our own players could so I felt the six mid-years held the glue together. Keeping Jacob a part of this class was critical. It showed momentum, showed confidence in our program at the University of Georgia. Coach (Jim) Chaney keeping Jacob involved and obviously them blending with our current players in the recruiting process helped a lot.
“Of those six first-year guys already in, I’d say I had relationships with five of the six … all but the quarterback (Eason),” said Smart. “Those five I had met, either from the summer or coming to our camp at Alabama, so I had some relationship with them. They knew of me so that helped to have somewhat of a bond there. Those guys, I think it shows credit to the rest of the staff that remained, the guys that were here already, the support staff. They had a lot of relationships within the building from coming over here a lot so that helped tremendously. Obviously, going on those home visits was a little awkward at first and you’re trying to sell yourself, sell the program which is easy here at UGA. But those six staying in place gave confidence to the rest of this class that everything’s going to be OK.”
Although the Bulldogs’ 2016 class missed out on such coveted targets as Derrick Brown, the state’s top-rated player who decided on Auburn, defensive stalwarts from the state of Alabama Ben Davis and Mack Wilson, who are Alabama bound, and also top offensive lineman E.J. Price, who surprisingly swung to Southern Cal, Smart was elated with his 2016 signing class, which numbers 20 players at present, is a consensus Top 10-ranked class and includes late afternoon signees Jaleel Laguins, the No. 10-rated inside linebacker in the nation from Oconee County, David Marshall, a 3-star defensive lineman from Upson-Lee that the Bulldogs flipped from Auburn, and Tyler Clark, a 6-3, 290-pound defensive tackle from Americus-Sumter County.,
“Today, for me, you guys may be about stars and rankings but to me it’s about new Bulldogs and members of the family and making sure these kids understand what’s important to their success of graduating and becoming great players and becoming productive players,” said Smart. “And that’s what this class will be judged on, how productive they are four years from now and walking across that stage and getting a diploma. I’m excited not only about the class and filling some needs that we needed but also now it’s time to move on and start developing the players that are here … getting to have a better relationship with them and getting in the off-season conditioning program.”
“We’d like to add a few more,” Smart added, “but we’re not in desperation mode by any means. I’m not in a hurry, I’m not in a panic mode. I’m completely comfortable if we end up with anywhere from 18, 19, 20, 21 …. I’m good with that because I’m not going to rush off and make any reaches. I think it’s important in your first year to have that. We’ve also got a relatively small expectation in our class for next year so to have those spots available for next year when you get a full recruiting cycle … I’ve talked to a lot of guys in the business in a similar situation I’ve in, the mistakes they made in trying to fill holes or fill spots, and when you do that you hurt next year’s recruiting class which I anticipate being one of our better ones since it’s our first full recruiting class.”
Highly complementary of the receivers the Bulldogs are bringing in in this recruiting class, Riley Ridley, junior college transfer Javon Wims and Tyler Simmons, Smart, as would be expected, is especially high on Hardman, the do-it-all threat from Elbert County.
“The kid’s got an unbelievable personality,” Smart said. “All you guys that have met him, he’s got an infectious personality. He affects everyone around him and to me that’s one of the critical aspects on the team … can you positively affect all your teammates and I think this kid can. He’s going to bring about a competitive attitude on the field and he’s coming in to challenge for a job. He’s got work to do to develop his body. He’s got to work out and get stronger at the SEC level but you can’t tell him he’s not ready. He believes he’s ready. He’s got confidence and he’s special with the ball in his hands. You go across the state and talk to a lot of different coaches and they talk about his ability to affect the game and I think Mecole can do that in a lot of ways, too.”
Smart said recruiting instate is a top priority but you can’t “put a fence around Georgia,” like some people think a school like UGA can do.
“To say we’ll get all the players in our state, that’s not realistic,” Smart declared. “It’s a state attacked by so many. There will be needs we have each year which we may not be able to fill in our state. So we have to go out to Florida, go out to North Carolina, we have to go to other areas, like we did with our quarterback (Jacob Eason). So we have to go to other areas to fill voids.”
Smart said, as the Bulldogs move forward under his guidance, the team must really zero in on landing top-notch offensive linemen.
“I would definitely say getting bigger is a goal of ours,” he said. “We want to get bigger up front on both sides of the ball. I would say we have certainly addressed that on the defensive line but when you go to the offensive line it’s not exactly what we want at offensive tackle. You say what’s the No. 1 need going into 2017, it’s going to be offensive tackles what we need. It’s the most deficient area on our front – I think if you combed the country and asked every SEC coach he’s going to say we’re most deficient at offensive tackle. You want a 6-5, 6-6 kid and they don’t grow on trees. Those guys are difference makers and you have to try to target those early and a lot of those relationships are already established. They’re being established now between the 2017 and ’18 players so when you come in that’s one of the toughest positions to recover at and one of the toughest positions to have that one-on-one relationships that your O-line coach and head coach want to have with players,” said Smart. “So that’s the area I would say we’re most disappointed in … we’ve got to improve the offensive line. I’m very pleased with where we are with the defensive line.”
“But I’m really looking forward to getting our hands on our players, get into the off-season program and get around those guys and spend more time with them,” said Smart. “That’s the part I enjoy most, the relationship with our players … not the chasing or the recruiting part as much as the guys that are here, building a trust and bond with them. The core of our team next year is on this campus and we’ve got to develop that so we can be a good, productive football team.”
And, needless to say, Georgia football fans can’t wait.