Left: Washington quarterback Jacob Eason, a Lake Stevens alum, looks to throw the ball during a game against BYU on Sept. 21, 2019, in Provo, Utah. Right: Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton, a Marysville Pilchuck alum, throws a pass during a game against Stanford on Sept. 28, 2019, in Corvallis, Ore. (Associated Press)

Left: Washington quarterback Jacob Eason, a Lake Stevens alum, looks to throw the ball during a game against BYU on Sept. 21, 2019, in Provo, Utah. Right: Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton, a Marysville Pilchuck alum, throws a pass during a game against Stanford on Sept. 28, 2019, in Corvallis, Ore. (Associated Press)

Local products’ intersecting path leads all the way to NFL

Jacob Eason and Jake Luton have been playing together or against each other since flag football.

Jacob Eason’s and Jake Luton’s football-playing paths first crossed before either was old enough to put on pads.

When Luton was about 8 years old and Eason was around 6, the two spent a season as flag football teammates with the Lake Stevens Bengals. Though both of them would go on to make their names as quarterbacks, there was only room for one at the money position. So it was the older Luton who took the spotlight as the quarterback, while Eason — in his last time playing a non-skill position — served as Luton’s right tackle.

“Luton was like a head taller than Jacob back then,” Eason’s father Tony recalled. “They called him ‘Big Jake’ and Jacob ‘Little Jake.’”

Ever since it’s seemed Eason’s and Luton’s paths were destined to intertwine. Their next intersection arrives this week, when the two Snohomish County-bred quarterbacks are expected to be selected in the same NFL draft.

Big guys with big arms

In the history of the NFL draft, which dates back to 1936, it’s believed just two quarterbacks who are Snohomish County natives have ever been selected. Those two are Everett High School graduate Chris Chandler, who was picked in the third round of the 1988 draft out of Washington by the Indianapolis Colts, and Mountlake Terrace native Mike Cordova, a Seattle Prep High School grad who was taken in the 11th round of the 1977 draft out of Stanford by the Philadelphia Eagles.

The county may match that total in this year’s draft alone.

Both Eason and Luton are prototype pocket passers. Both are in the 6-foot-6, 225-pound range, giving them the height to see over blockers and the bulk to shrug off pass rushers. Both have cannon arms, giving them the ability to get the ball down the field in a hurry.

Eason, a member of the Lake Stevens High School Class of 2016, has always projected as a future NFL player. He was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a high school senior, then started in the football-mad SEC as a freshman at Georgia. A knee injury early in his sophomore season saw Jake Fromm grab the starting job, so Eason transferred back home to Washington, and after sitting out a season he took over as the Huskies’ starter in 2019. He went 260-for-405 passing for 3,132 yards and 23 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He gave up his senior season to enter the draft.

If Eason’s collegiate road was long and winding, then Luton’s was akin to the movie, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” The 2014 Marysville Pilchuck High School graduate began at Idaho, transferred to Ventura (California) Community College and then to Oregon State, where injuries twice derailed his seasons. But as a sixth-year senior in 2019 he finally got healthy and broke out in a big way, going 222-for-358 for 2,717 yards and 28 TDs versus just three interceptions.

Eason is ranked as the No. 5 quarterback in the draft by both Sports Illustrated and CBSsports.com, and No. 8 by Pro Football Focus. He’s projected to be picked in the first two rounds, and if he goes in the first round he’ll be the first Snohomish County native to be a first-rounder since guard Curt Marsh, a Snohomish High School graduate, was selected 23rd overall out of Washington by the Oakland Raiders in 1981.

Luton, who wasn’t on the NFL draft radar before the season began, earned an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine and is now considered a late-round candidate. He’s ranked as the No. 10 quarterback in the draft by Pro Football Focus, No. 11 by CBSsports.com and No. 13 by Sports Illustrated.

“I think it’s pretty cool (having two quarterbacks from the same county being NFL draft prospects in the same year), and we should all sit back and really enjoy it, because it doesn’t happen often,” said Marysville Pilchuck coach Brandon Carson, who coached Luton in high school. “It’s two people not only from the same county, but from the same conference (Wesco). You’re talking about two of the 255 players who will be drafted being from our area.”

And their paths have crossed many times in reaching this point.

Teammates and rivals

Luton doesn’t have many concrete memories from when he and Eason were flag football teammates.

“I don’t remember anything too specific, other than that we were on the same team,” Luton said. “I would say we were friends when we were young, I remember going to their house and hanging out when we were really young.”

Eason remembers having to wait in line for his turn at quarterback.

“I was his right tackle,” Eason said during his NFL Scouting Combine media session in late February in Indianapolis. “He was older than me, so he got out of there and I switched to quarterback.”

Ever since, when Eason and Luton have met on the football field, it’s been as rivals.

The pair faced one another twice in high school. The first meeting came in 2012 when Luton was a junior at Marysville Pilchuck and Eason was a freshman at Lake Stevens. Though Eason wasn’t the starter, he saw some action as the Vikings prevailed 45-21. One year later Luton and the Tomahawks earned their revenge when Marysville Pilchuck won 37-21.

“I was really glad they ran the ball more than they threw it,” Lake Stevens coach Tom Tri said about his impressions of Luton as a high school quarterback. “He had a great arm and was a great talent.”

“You were looking at elite skill-sets from both of them,” Carson remembered about the head-to-head matchups. “They had the height, the arm strength, the accuracy. That’s not something you see in high school at all.”

Tri said he began realizing Eason may be an NFL-caliber quarterback during Eason’s sophomore season in 2013, especially after Eason led the Vikings to a thrilling 53-49 come-from-behind victory over Edmonds-Woodway to win the Wesco 4A championship, thus beginning Lake Stevens’ string of seven consecutive league titles and counting.

“I didn’t so much know he had NFL talent, but I knew he was one of the best quarterbacks in the country in the way he was being heavily recruited by major schools,” Tri said. “His release was just so natural, he had the velocity and the arm strength, and then there was the fact he was 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds and could move around.”

That same year produced Carson’s favorite memory of Luton, when Luton put an injury-riddled Marysville Pilchuck team on his back and led the Tomahawks to a 59-20 victory over Glacier Peak for the Wesco 3A title. But it was a year earlier when Carson started to see the seeds of a potential NFL player in Luton.

“It was probably his junior year,” Carson said. “He grew a little bit more, he grew a couple inches between his sophomore and junior years, and that’s when his arm strength and accuracy really started to shine through.”

Eason and Luton, once they finally settled into their destinations, even faced one another in college, with Eason’s Huskies defeating Luton’s Beavers 19-7 last November.

The NFL draft should be the next time their football paths intersect.

NFL draft bound

The virtual nature of this year’s draft, which begins Thursday and runs through Saturday, means there will be no green-room experiences for players, no giant family gatherings to celebrate selection.

Eason’s family is still trying to figure out what it’s going to do for the draft. Eason is currently working out in Irvine, California, where his agency, Rep1, is based. However, Eason was one of 58 players invited to participate virtually in the draft, indicating he’s considered a first- or second-round player.

“The NFL has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember,” Eason said at the combine. “I felt ready (to declare early) and I want to go and take on that challenge.”

Meanwhile, Luton is back home in Marysville, where he’s throwing on a daily basis on his grandfather’s 10-acre property, using his younger brothers as receiving targets — and trying to filter out the noise about when he might be drafted.

“I’ve just kind of stopped paying attention to that,” Luton said. “I’ve heard so many different things. I’ve heard everything from the early rounds to not being drafted at all. I’m not focused on that, I’m focused on what I can control. I just want to get my foot in the door and prove that I belong.”

The draft represents the next intersection point for Eason and Luton, and the Snohomish County pair is looking forward to their paths continuing to cross as professionals.

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