SEATTLE — For Jacob Eason, Wednesday morning’s University of Washington football practice at Husky Stadium, which opened the team’s four-week spring camp, was much like any other since he arrived on campus.
He’s still the physical specimen who at 6-foot-6 rises above the crowd, even when surrounded by other elite college athletes.
He’s still the quarterback with the big arm, zinging the ball around the field with an ease that makes one wonder if he’s taxing himself at all.
However, there was one significant difference Wednesday. Eason’s waiting period is now officially over, and the Lake Stevens High School graduate’s drive to become Washington’s starting QB has begun.
Eason is eligible again after redshirting during the 2018 season following his transfer from Georgia, and Wednesday marked the beginning of his preparations for getting back into games that count.
“It felt great,” Eason said about the first spring practice. “Just getting back out there, it’s always fun to throw the ball around with the guys and get some work in rather than OTAs. It’s really good to get back out here.”
This is the start of a big year for Eason, who is as decorated a prep football player ever produced by Snohomish County. In 2015 as a senior he led Lake Stevens to the 4A state semifinals and was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year. In 2016 he started as a true freshman for the University of Georgia.
But Eason transferred to Washington last February after a knee injury saw him cede the Bulldogs’ starting job to Jake Fromm. Now Eason, who will be a junior in 2019, is the talented hometown kid who’s considered the presumptive successor to graduated four-year starter Jake Browning, the winningest quarterback in school history.
“You take it and you notice it, but you can’t let it affect you,” Eason said about the hype that’s accompanied his return home. “I’ll do the best I can to please everyone, but you can’t please everyone. It’s awesome being in front of my family and friends, and I love that they don’t have to fly to see me play. But you take (the hype) with a grain of salt, and you do the best you can and just work as hard as you can.”
Though Eason is thought to be Browning’s heir apparent, he spent most of Wednesday’s practice running the Huskies’ No. 2 offense. Sophomore Jake Haener, who served as Browning’s backup last season, received most of the reps with the first unit.
And while Washington coach Chris Petersen had high praise for Eason the individual, he made a point of tempering expectations for Eason the quarterback.
“What I learned about Jacob (during his redshirt season) is he’s a really good guy,” Petersen said. “He obviously can sling the ball, you could see it in high school, you could see it here. I got to know him and be around him and see how he interacts with the guys, he just does a nice job of fitting in with everybody. That’s probably the No. 1 thing that jumped out to me.
“He hasn’t really played real football in a long time,” Petersen was quick to add. “This is a college guy who’s played one year of college football. I just think it’s a disservice to him for (the media) to put all this pressure on him, because I’ve seen what’s out there and all that kind of stuff. He’s a college guy, he’s played one year of football, he’s got some really good talent. Our other guys do as well, but it’s not being talked about like it is with him. I think that’s unfair.”
Indeed, the last time Eason saw game action was on Oct. 7, 2017, when he got mop-up duty in Georgia’s 45-14 rout of Vanderbilt. But Eason used his redshirt season well, being named Washington’s scout team Most Valuable Player in 2018 as he emulated the opposing quarterbacks for the Huskies’ No. 1 defense.
“Playing against guys like (Taylor Rapp), it’s unbelievable,” Eason said. “You get to go against those guys every day. Even though I wasn’t playing on Saturdays, I was getting that much better in practice.
“It was hard (sitting out), but I used not being able to play on Saturdays in my practice time,” Eason added. “I had to compete every Monday through Thursday against our defense to get them better.”
Eason also used his time on the sidelines to learn what he could from Browning.
“There were a lot of things (I learned from Browning), it’s hard to specify just one,” Eason said. “Just watching him play, even the things I didn’t ask him, you just watch him closely from the sideline. Last year I got to do that, be there on the sideline during the games and hear some of the things he was saying. He was a great tool for me to use and learn from.”
As to whether he expects to earn the starting job, Eason said he isn’t thinking about that.
“That’s a long ways down the road, and we take it one day at a time,” Eason said. “Right now I’m just thinking about tomorrow’s practice. We take it one day at a time and try to get better, and ultimately (the first game) will come and we’ll be ready to go.”
There are five players from Snohomish County high schools on Washington’s spring practice roster, including Eason. Among the others, senior defensive lineman John Clark (Marysville Getchell) rotated between the first-, second- and third-team defenses; freshman cornerback Kyler Gordon (Archbishop Murphy) played with the second-team defense; senior running back Malik Braxton (Meadowdale) played with the third- and fourth-team offenses; and freshman linebacker Ben Hines (Archbishop Murphy) played with the third- and fourth-team defenses.