High School Sports

Lake Stevens’ Jacob Eason: The most recruited quarterback ever from the Northwest

Lake Stevens High quarterback Jacob Eason.
Lake Stevens High quarterback Jacob Eason. The Herald

From one national player of the year to another — go prove it, Jacob Eason.

Prove that five-star rating; Gatorade and Army player of the year awards; interest from universities from all four corners of the country and everywhere in between; and why you’re billed as one of the most coveted quarterback recruits in the nation.

That’s former Puyallup High School quarterback Brock Huard’s advice to Eason, the former Lake Stevens star who is enrolled at the University of Georgia.

“You’ve been given a ton of applause and praise and more in this recruiting world than any of your predecessors in this state ever saw,” Huard said. “Now you’ve got to go earn it.

“The adversity that will come his way in that conference (the SEC) and playing the brand of football there — it’s no bed of roses. They are going to hit you in the mouth, there are going to be enormous expectations, there is going to be a level of adversity that he has never faced in his life. And I really hope he has the fortitude and the stick-to-itiveness to plow through it because you can see in many of the guys that have his level of stardom and fame and attention — they have a hard time cutting through all of that adversity.”

No high school quarterback in the Northwest ever received more recruiting attention than Eason.

The 6-foot-6 Eason reminds some of Drew Bledsoe, who like Chris Chandler, Mark Rypien, Jake Plummer, Kellen Clemens, Derek Anderson, Damon Huard and Brock Huard were all considered some of the top quarterback recruits in the nation in their times.

What sets Eason apart is that none of them experienced this 24/7 recruiting cycle. Fans didn’t religiously monitor every post to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram because social media didn’t exist.

“I think I could answer that pretty definitively that in this age in 2015-16, in this recruiting world that he’s walked through, it is bigger than it ever was 10, 20 and 30 years ago,” Brock Huard said.

“And it’s really hard to fathom where it’s going from here.”

Former Skyline quarterbacks Jake Heaps and Max Browne were both considered the No. 1 quarterbacks in the nation for their respective classes. But combine their Twitter followers and you’re not even halfway to Eason’s more than 39,000.

Forget his special tools. Eason is this region’s most recruited quarterback if only by default.

I think in the recruiting-rankings generation since the late ’90s, he certainly is the most decorated, recruited quarterback out west aside from Matt Barkley or Jimmy Clausen. But in Washington and from a Northwest standpoint, there hasn’t been a guy recruited this heavily.Last year’s quarterback class was probably the best I’ve seen on the West Coast in probably a decade. And I would say that Jacob Eason would have contended for the No. 1 quarterback on the West Coast last year with Josh Rosen.

Brandon Huffman, national director of recruiting for Scout.com

“THERE’S NO PATIENCE”

He left the trophies behind.

That glass Army All-American trophy sits in Eason’s Lake Stevens home. His father, Tony Eason, believes that trophy might as well be a metaphor for Jacob Eason’s decorated high school career — one that ended with 9,813 passing yards and 102 touchdowns.

“We were in San Antonio and he was like, ‘That belongs on a shelf somewhere at home because I’m going to college now. High school is over,’ ” Tony Eason said. “That’s kind of the mindset — all these awards have been great, but now it’s over. They can sit on a shelf at the parents’ house.”

“He’s at the bottom of the depth chart at Georgia. He’s got to go in there and earn it and he can sleep easy when he’s 65 and has Medicaid or Medicare or whatever.”

This is a mindset instilled from Tony Eason’s own playing days at Notre Dame. He played alongside humble athletes and not-so-humble ones and obviously prefers the former.

Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri believes the recruiting circus started about midway through Jacob Eason’s sophomore year. The passing concepts were simple, but Eason’s throws were great.

Hearing Tri list the schools that visited Lake Stevens almost sounds like he’s singing a Johnny Cash song.

“We had literally every major Division I university, at least it seemed like, showing up here for a while,” Tri said. “I’m talking Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, Florida State. Obviously, tons of Pac-12 schools from Stanford, USC, UCLA, Washington, Washington State, Arizona, Oregon. Oregon State was the first to offer. Cal. Then you had Michigan, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas.

“I would have offensive coordinators or assistant coaches or recruiting coordinators coming in just about every day. There were three different times where there were five or more universities at our practices. And just about everybody walked away saying, ‘We really like him. We like him a lot.’ 

One FBS recruiter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it’s because Eason’s arm strength is off the charts.

“He can make some throws most high school guys cannot,” he said. “I think he is going to go in and play as a true freshman. I really do.”

Eason and his family flew to Atlanta and rented a car the summer before his junior year for a nine-day college tour/family road trip to Alabama, Florida State and Georgia. Tony Eason remembered the rural gravel roads that his wife’s directions app led them on, but also sitting with his family with Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher and Mark Richt.

Jacob Eason committed to Georgia on July 19 of that trip — with two seasons of high school football still to play.

To think that Brock Huard called then-UW coach Jim Lambright the day of the Rose Bowl to tell him he was choosing the Huskies over UCLA. There was a month until signing day, yet that was considered committing early.

“Now, as a quarterback — if you don’t have an offer going into your senior year you better have just an absolutely amazing season, or you’ve got to be like Marcus Mariota who had to wait his turn because a D1 guy was in front of him,” Huffman said. “It just shows you how quickly the schedule has moved up, especially for quarterbacks. The best of the best are getting most their offers their sophomore year and that’s how Eason was.”

“It’s absurd now to think how early it begins,” Huard said. “The guys want to commit early to keep that relentless pursuit of everybody off your back.

There’s no patience. There rarely is in big-time business and that’s what college football has become. It’s big, big-time business with a lot of people paying a lot of money and making a big livelihood out of it and very rarely do you find a streamlined, responsible, mature deal. It’s very impatient, very rushed and very intense and I think a lot of parents and coaches feel it.

Brock Huard, former Puyallup High School quarterback

NO ORDINARY QB RECRUIT

Tri didn’t like Jim Harbaugh. At all.

He was a Seahawks fan and Harbaugh’s demeanor as the 49ers coach drove him crazy.

Then Harbaugh came to Lake Stevens to attend one of Eason’s basketball games and asked Tri, who started coaching at Lake Stevens in 1984 but had never before experienced a recruitment on the level of Eason’s, to speak at one of his clinics in Michigan.

Tri had a one-one-one interview with him in Bo Schembechler’s office beforehand and was in the middle of explaining one of Lake Stevens’ screen concepts when he bumped his Styrofoam cup of coffee onto the blue carpet as he backpedaled to the whiteboard.

“I back right into my ... coffee cup and spill it right onto his carpet,” Tri said. “He looks at me and he’s like, ‘Don’t even worry about it. I spill (stuff) on here all the time.’

“So I just kept right on going, but in my mind I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. I just spilled coffee right onto ... Bo Schembechler’s office. Literally, there’s two Heisman trophies in there, there’s the Doak Walker trophy, there’s a Lombardi trophy and Tom Tri spills coffee all over Bo Schembechler’s office.”

Despite the clumsy incident, Tri insists “Jim and I are tight now.”

But Harbaugh’s interest in Eason vaulted the quarterback’s recruitment even further. Tony Eason insists it only got crazier after Jacob committed to Georgia and with Harbaugh back in the college game.

And for scouting analysts, it was telling that Harbaugh would take the time to fly and see Jacob Eason when he still had to solidify Michigan’s 2015 class.

“That was kind of that final stamp of approval that (Eason) wasn’t your ordinary Washington high school quarterback recruit,” Huffman said.

“It showed you the skill set he had that guys like Mark Richt and Harbaugh and Brian Kelly were coming after him because he fit so many types of offenses and he really is a special talent.”

Scout.com has Eason ranked as the No. 2 quarterback in the nation behind IMG Academy’s Shea Patterson, but Huffman believes Eason was more heavily recruited. Patterson is a dual-threat and can fit in only so many systems. That was the same for Jake Locker and Marques Tuiasosopo — who some colleges tried to recruit as athletes instead of quarterbacks.

“And a guy like Jake Heaps was really only a spread quarterback, so I don’t think Notre Dame was going to recruit him,” Huffman said.

But because Jacob can fit in so many different offenses, he is easily the most recruited quarterback in my 14 recruiting classes.

Brandon Huffman, national director of recruiting for Scout.com

“THERE’S A LOT OF EXPECTATIONS”

Some articles tell of Eason’s obsession with actress Blake Lively, that he’s a “Star Wars” nerd or that his favorite emoji is the kissing emoji because it’s best for flirting.

He’s an 18-year-old whose tweets, even some that don’t say anything, get retweets and favorites by the hundreds.

“You’re a young high school kid and you have a lot of eyes watching and following every move you make,” Heaps said. “It puts a lot of pressure on you to act a certain way. ... I think Jacob has handled himself well with all of the attention and pressure.”

Tony Eason said he and his son often talk about being smart with social media.

“It was important to keep him grounded and to be able to look in the mirror and like what he saw in return,” Tony Eason said.

That was especially so when rumors spread that Georgia might fire Richt, which it eventually did. Some Twitter followers could not have cared less about Jacob Eason’s run with Lake Stevens and his first trip to the Tacoma Dome. It was about if he would be a Heisman winner someday, or an NFL draft pick.

“He got to a point where he wasn’t even really a high school quarterback anymore,” Huffman said. “It’s ‘He’s the savior of Georgia football.’ 

Skyline coach Mat Taylor calls the recruiting process “overwhelming.”

He said about a third of the college coaches — whether it was when Taylor coached Heaps, Browne or Kasen Williams — would show up at the school unannounced, oblivious that Taylor, like Tri, is a full-time teacher and can’t abandon his classes. But how do you say ‘No’ when they flew in that morning and are leaving on a red eye that night?

“It puts a cramp on your teaching big time,” Taylor said. “Sometimes when guys show up it’s like, ‘I just don’t have the time right now.’ But you feel like you’re hurting your kid.”

Then there’s the intensified media interest. ESPN televised a Lake Stevens game this year, as it did when Skyline had Heaps and again when it had Browne.

Heaps and Skyline in 2009 hosted Nick Montana’s Oaks Christian on ESPN – with actor Will Smith, Hall of Famer quarterback Joe Montana and NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky all in attendance to cheer on their kids. But Taylor said he remembers some of the UW-clad fans booing Heaps. On his home field.

The pressure on a top-ranked recruit is very real. And the hype is impossible to live up to.

“It doesn’t come from colleges for the most part. What it is — it’s the Internet sites, it’s social media, it’s a 45-year-old alum who is following the Twitter of a 17-year-old kid,” Taylor said. “Are you kidding me? It’s ridiculous. Shame on you for doing that. I mean, seriously.

Then with Jake, classic example. Did it pan out like we all thought it would? No, it didn’t. When it comes down to it, I’ll always be defensive of Jake because he’s like a kid to me. … But I think a lot of that is that Jake could have never lived up to the hype that was put on him. And neither can Max and neither will Jacob Eason or any of these kids.

Mat Taylor, Skyline football coach

But Tri said that despite the at times overwhelming nature of recruiting, he would go through it again "in a heartbeat" if it continued to spark the community like it did for Lake Stevens and he got another Eason.

“You have to look at it and think, ‘Man, I’m just so blessed and so grateful to be in this position,’ ” Heaps said. “You look at Jacob and he has teammates who are dying just to have one scholarship offer. ... You get a perspective.

“It can get taxing. It can get stressful at times when there’s a lot of expectations and a lot of people trying to pull you in different directions. I think it’s as stressful as you make it out to be. If you worry about what Joe Shmoe is saying on Instagram it’s going to be stressful. But you have to have a narrow focus and worry about getting better and focus on the right things.

“You have to leave all your accolades and everything behind and realize that ‘Hey, I’m a freshman just like everyone else and I need to prove myself.’ 

And that’s why Jacob Eason left his trophies home.

“We said the same things to him,” Tony Eason said. “You take it all with a grain of salt. He is basically starting at the bottom.”

Which is a long way from where everybody else has him.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677, @TJCotterill

NORTHWEST NUGGETS — QUARTERBACKS

A look throughout the history of quarterbacks selected as The News Tribune’s Northwest Nuggets, which began in 1988, and where they orignally committed.

2016: Jacob Eason, Lake Stevens (Georgia)

2015: Brett Rypien, Shadle Park (Boise State)

2013: Max Browne, Skyline (USC)

2012: Jeff Lindquist, Mercer Island (Washington); Tanner Mangum, Eagle, Idaho (BYU)

2010: Jake Heaps, Skyline (BYU)

2009: Taysom Hill, Highland, Idaho (Stanford)

2007: Kellen Kiilsgaard, Auburn (Stanford)

2006: Cody Hawkins, Bishop Kelly, Idaho (Colorado); Jake Locker, Ferndale (Washington); Kevin Riley, Beaverton, Ore. (Cal)

2005: Erik Ainge, Glencoe, Ore. (Tennessee); Matt Tuiasosopo, Woodinville (pro baseball)

2003: Ryan Gunderson, Central Catholic, Ore. (Oregon State); Johnny DuRocher, Bethel (Oregon)

2001: Derek Anderson, Scappoose, Ore. (Oregon State); Kellen Clemens, Burns, Ore. (Oregon); Nic Costa, Aloha, Ore. (Arizona)

2000: Brett Elliott, Lake Oswego (Utah); Grady Sizemore, Cascade of Everett (pro baseball)

1999: Matt Berry, Eastlake (BYU); Cody Pickett, Caldwell, Idaho (Washington)

1998: Luke Huard, Puyallup (North Carolina); Jared Jones, Walla Walla (Florida State); Taylor Barton, Beaverton, Ore. (Colorado)

1997: Joey Harrington, Central Catholic, Ore. (Oregon); Marques Tuiasosopo, Woodinville (Washington)

1996: Adam Bledsoe, Eisenhower (Colorado); A.J. Feeley, Ontario, Ore. (Oregon)

1995: Brock Huard, Puyallup (Washington); Cade McNown, West Linn, Ore. (UCLA); Justin Wilcox, Junction City, Ore. (Oregon)

1993: Shane Fortney, Mariner (Washington); Jake Plummer, Capital, Idaho (Arizona State)

1992: Ted Stark, South Medford, Ore. (Washington)

1991: Damon Huard, Puyallup (Washington)

1990: Drew Bledsoe, Walla Walla (Washington State); Nate Holdren, Richland (Michigan); Tommy Knecht, Corvallis, Ore. (Stanford)

1989: Billy Joe Hobert, Puyallup (Washington); Mike Pattinson, Moscow, Idaho (Washington State)

1988: Mike Miadich, Lakeridge, Ore. (Notre Dame)

tcotterill@thenewstribune.com

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