Note: The following appears in the Louisville football gameday program.
Years ago, the ACC honored six student-athletes at each school every year with the ACC Top Six Award. The student-athletes selected were honored for their work in community service activities that were organized by the athletic department.
In each of the first five years of the award, defensive lineman Nick Eason, now Clemson’s defensive run game coordinator and defensive tackles coach, was named to the list of ACC Top Six Award winners. He would be the only five-time selection for the honor, not only at Clemson, but at any ACC school.
Bill D’Andrea, the retired Clemson Hall of Fame administrator, was in charge of the department’s community service activities when he was the director of Clemson’s student-athlete enrichment programs.
“My favorite story about Nick took place when he was a freshman. I was driving a van full of football players to a community service activity. It was the first one Nick ever went to.
“He and the others were asking a lot of questions about what they would be doing, how long it would take, etc. There was some apprehension, because it was their first experience.
“The event was set up by Helping Hands, and the guys interacted with a lot of underprivileged kids.
“When it was over, Nick got in the front seat next to me, and the first thing he said was, ‘When can we do that again?’”
“I came by my interest in community service naturally from my grandfather, who was a pastor, a community leader and a giver his entire life,” said Eason. “He never did anything for the acknowledgement…he was just about caring for people. He instilled that in me from the time I was young.”
Eason excelled on the field as well during his Tiger playing days. After redshirting his freshman year (1998), he was a reserve in 1999, then started his last three seasons (2000-02). He was named the team’s top defensive player by the coaching staff in 2000, when he tied for the team lead in sacks (7).
After an injury-plagued year in 2001, he was named First-Team All-ACC in 2002. He finished his career with 155 tackles, 30 tackles for loss and 15 sacks. He also left with two degrees, an undergraduate degree in sociology and a master’s degree in human resource development. He became one of the first Tigers to earn two degrees during his playing career.
“My recruitment to Clemson started with (Assistant Coach) Rick Stockstill,” recalled Eason of the current Middle Tennessee head coach. “He did a great job recruiting me and my entire family. I made my visit in December. I felt the hospitality and fell in love with the place even though no students were around.
“I am still close to Coach Stockstill. He used to call my mom to check on her even after I graduated and was in the NFL. There are a lot of similarities between Coach Stockstill and Coach (Dabo) Swinney.”
Eason was a fourth-round draft pick of the Broncos in 2003. He played 117 games in his NFL career over nine seasons. That experience with the Browns, Steelers and Cardinals led to his career in coaching.
“I first thought about coaching when I was with the Steelers. One day during stretching, Ray Horton (assistant coach at the time) told me that he thought I would make a good coach one day. Coach (Mike) Tomlin was encouraging also.”
Less than two years after he retired, Eason began his coaching career with the Browns as an intern. The next year, he started a four-year run with the Titans as an outside linebackers and defensive line coach. He then served in the same capacity with the Bengals, giving him seven years coaching in the NFL.
In 2021, Eason made the move to the college ranks at Auburn. Soon after the season, when Swinney needed a defensive tackles coach, he called Eason.
“When I was making this hire for the defensive tackle position, I really made getting someone with considerable NFL experience a priority,” said Swinney. “I thought it was important for our current players and for recruiting. Nick fit all the boxes…it just so happened that he also was a Clemson graduate.”
Eason hit the ground running, as he began recruiting shortly after accepting the job.
“I really enjoy recruiting. It is probably the biggest difference between coaching in the NFL and college.
“Coaching is about relationships. You have to earn the trust of your players.”
“Nick has done a great job in every phase of the job,” added Swinney. “He is detailed, organized, is a great teacher of the game and great communicator. He has been able to convey his wisdom from what he learned as a player and coach in the NFL to our players. He is loved by his players and is a great fit as a college coach. He is going to make a great head coach one day.”