<
>

Haskins, Eason on opposite ends of coach changes

play
Eason impressed by Kirby Smart (1:37)

Jacob Eason talks about why he decided to stay at Georgia with new coach Kirby Smart replacing Mark Richt. (1:37)

The call came around 8 a.m. on a Sunday from Mark Richt himself.

He had been fired after 14 seasons at Georgia, and Richt wanted to talk to Jacob Eason before the young quarterback's life flipped sideways.

"He was thinking about us," said Eason's father, Tony Eason, a former Notre Dame wide receiver who talked briefly to Richt before Jacob heard the troubling news. "That's the kind of guy he is."

Jacob Eason, the No. 1-rated quarterback prospect in the Class of 2016, would be named two weeks later as the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Twelve days earlier, Eason had turned 18. Sixteen months earlier, he committed to Richt and the Bulldogs, falling for Georgia on a summer trip before his junior year of high school in Lake Stevens, Washington.

Four hours before Richt's call, Eason turned off the video from the previous night -- a 37-34 Lake Stevens loss at the Tacoma Dome to Skyline High in the semifinals of the Washington 4A playoffs. He threw for 390 yards in his final prep game but tossed a fourth-down interception on his final play and lost a rare fumble in the second half.

And now, this.

"It was just a bad day," Tony Eason said.

Coaching changes rock college football annually, with ramifications for families of assistant coaches and players entrenched in programs. But few figures in the game feel the impact like high school quarterbacks long pledged to play for coaches who depart, on their own terms or not, in the late stages of recruiting.

QB recruits are regularly tasked with being the foundation of their recruiting classes. They invest emotionally in their future schools. When the dreams they're sold suddenly look so different, with only weeks to revisit a four-year decision set to shape the rest of their lives, for the programs involved and other interested parties, anything goes.

And for the young quarterbacks, often, it feels like the walls around them have collapsed.


For Eason, the circumstances called for a therapeutic trip into the Cascade Mountains with his parents, Tony and Christine, and sister, Lilly. Phones turned off, they climbed the Mountain Loop Highway toward Mount Pilchuck in Tony's old stomping grounds of Snohomish County.

After the last 18 hours, the QB needed this break. The Easons had made this trip before. It was a return to normalcy, though something much different awaited back near sea level.

"There were so many people who wanted to know," said Tom Tri, Eason's coach at Lake Stevens. "What's he going to do? What's he thinking? Is he going to recommit, decommit? What's his plan?"

Eason thought he avoided all of this with the 2014 decision. In the spring after his sophomore season, coaches from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Washington, Washington State, Cal, USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Michigan and others visited to get a look at him.

Eason made a trip to Athens, Georgia, and met offensive guard Ben Cleveland. Together, they pledged to Georgia.

"At the heart of it, it's still a relational thing," Tony Eason told the Herald newspaper of Everett, Washington, in August 2015. "You get the feeling for if you like the coach and he likes you. That hasn't changed. It's still a huge life decision that you have to make."

In the wake of Richt's firing, Tri said, many outsiders forgot about the potential effect of this change on the life of a kid still trying to finish high school.

The coach made an innocuous comment to a reporter from Georgia at the end of a lengthy interview. It became a national headline.

With everything they said and did came the risk that someone would misconstrue the meaning.

"It was stress," Jacob Eason said last week in Athens, where he enrolled, as planned, one semester early after graduating from Lake Stevens in December. "But it was more wait and see. You gotta give them time. They just lost their head coach."

Eason said he never wavered in his loyalty to Georgia. He visited Florida and Washington, but only as a backup plan in case UGA hired a coach whose offense veered from Eason's strength as a pocket passer.

The hiring of coach Kirby Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney eased Eason's concerns.

Tri, the Lake Stevens coach, said he was glad to absorb some of the burden in the days after Richt was fired as Eason maintained his privacy. The coach's cell and work phones rarely stopped ringing.

"I totally get it," Tri said. "People want to know.

"To his credit, he handled it so well. I think it's because he's not out there seeking the limelight. He won all these national awards, and you would never know it from his body language. He doesn't act like that guy.

Eason never wanted to go up the mountain in search of anything more than a Christmas tree.

In the end, he said, "It all worked out."


Dwayne Haskins Jr. did what he thought a quarterback was supposed to do. He picked his school, Maryland. He picked it early, in May 2015. And he went to work as the cornerstone of the Terrapins' recruiting class.

Then coach Randy Edsall was fired in October, and Haskins, No. 63 in the ESPN 300 and the fourth-ranked pocket-passer QB nationally out of Potomac, Maryland, struggled to make sense of the past five months -- or the next three before he had to settle on a school.

"You commit to a school," Haskins said, "thinking you're going to sign with them, not that you're going to make a new decision. There's a lot of pressure on someone, as a quarterback, to decide early in the process."

Haskins said he felt pressure, as a local recruit, to pick Maryland and stick with the Terps.

"It's hard, man," he said. "I was the leader of that class. I had other commits and fans asking me what was going on. I didn't even know. I'm just an 18-year-old kid trying to figure out life."

Just don't call it crazy.

"That's the word I don't want to say, 'crazy,'" said the quarterback's father, Dwayne Haskins Sr. "Things happen for a reason. We're a faith-based family, and we relied on our instincts to see where relationships from the past could take us."

Dwayne Haskins Jr. established relationships with coaches at Florida, LSU and Ohio State before he committed to Maryland.

"I didn't know what coach truly wanted me,'" Haskins said, "where would I fit in as a player, a person and as a student."

He kept the Terps in mind, but by the time Maryland hired D.J. Durkin from Michigan, Haskins had started to develop the right feel for Ohio State.

He switched his pledge to the Buckeyes in January.

"I thought he handled it remarkably well," the elder Haskins said. "At the end of the day, things happen, and we were in a position to re-evaluate. Most importantly, he's at peace because he knows he made a life decision that will help him with life after football."

At the time of Haskins' initial commitment, Ohio State had received a pledge from quarterback Tristen Wallace of DeSoto, Texas. Wallace later defected to Oregon.

Haskins said on signing day, the drama of the past nine months resolved, that he learned from the twists and turns of recruiting. A player in his position, Haskins said, needs to act selfishly in picking a school.

"You can't please everyone in this process," Haskins said. "You have to do things that will benefit you. Being a quarterback, the person that I am, I'm all about my teammates. But as you grow up as a man, you've got to make your own decision."

The cycle has already begun to repeat. Of the 22 quarterbacks in the ESPN Junior 300, 12 are committed to colleges.

A few of them might benefit from from a visit with Eason or Haskins.