Nov. 5, 2001
We’ve all heard the stories of the student-athletes who find the time to excel both athletically and academically. We’ve even heard the stories of the student-athletes who find time to fit community service into their schedule. How many times have we heard about student-athletes who suffer potentially career-ending injuries and then make a successful comeback?
There are many student-athletes whose achievements fall under one of these scenarios, but there are very few who fit into all the aforementioned categories. Nick Eason is one of the few who does. Most people know Eason as Clemson’s 2000 Defensive Most Valuable Player. Last year, he was Clemson’s co-leader in sacks and started all 11 regular season games for the Tigers. He won the team hustle award as well as the strength training dedication award. What few people know is what Eason accomplishes away from the football field. In August of 2001, Eason received his undergraduate degree in sociology. Doesn’t sound too extraordinary? Well, one of the things that makes this more memorable is that Eason had two years of eligibility remaining when he graduated. He finished his degree in three years and had only competed two seasons on the gridiron. Eason is the first Clemson football player to accomplish that feat.
Eason credits his family with placing high expectations on him, but even he will tell you that he surpassed those expectations. Both of his parents and many of his aunts and uncles have master’s degrees, so it was expected that Eason would receive his college diploma. “My family is a big motivation. My grandparents and parents expect a lot from me. They have always placed an emphasis on education. My grandparents didn’t have a college education and got married early, which was pretty common back then. My mom has a master’s degree and so does my dad so it’s not like I am the first person to go to college.
“I have aunts and uncles who have master’s degrees, too, so that really helps motivate me. My mom and dad always pushed me to achieve, but I don’t think they expected me to graduate this early – they probably expected me to graduate in four or five years.” Eason is now enrolled in the human resources graduate program and wants to be a member of the Secret Service after he finishes his football career. Still want to hear more about how Eason is not your typical football player? Then let’s talk about his athletic accomplishments. As most Clemson fans know, Eason suffered a season-ending injury in December of 2000 as the team was preparing for its Gator Bowl game. He ruptured his Achilles tendon, which is a serious injury for anyone, and an especially critical injury for a football player.
It was after his injury that Eason realized he could graduate early, by taking 21 hours in the spring and another 15 in the summer. It was also during that time that Eason realized how much he enjoyed football. “You don’t know how much you miss something until you can’t do it anymore. I had played football all my life and then it was cut off and I had to sit back and watch for seven or eight months. It made me think back to the times when I moaned and groaned through practice and regretted having practice.
“Then once I got hurt I wished I was out there. It kind of prepared me mentally to play this year. I am more focused and it gave me more time to think about what I want to do with my life. I knew the rehab was going to be long so I tried to stay focused and work hard. That gave me a chance to gain some weight and get stronger in the weight room since I knew I was going to be changing positions.” This fall, Eason moved from defensive end to defensive tackle. Even though his statistical numbers are lower this year as the result of a sprained ankle, at 6-4, 285 pounds, he is still a talented and formidable opponent with NFL aspirations.
There’s still another side of Eason that people might overlook – his community service involvement. Eason was honored in September as one of 11 Division I football players to be named to the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team in recognition of their community service involvement. The AFCA honor is not the first time Eason has been recognized for his community service efforts. He is a three-time ACC Top Six Award recipient, a Clemson first in that no other student-athlete has received that honor thrice. He was also featured in a United Way commercial this past summer.
How did a football player and full-time student get involved in community service? “I got involved my freshman year because it was a chance to get away from school and work with people in the community. I went a few times and really enjoyed it so from then on, I started going all the time. I like to see the reaction of the kids – how happy they are and watching them play around. Plus, I like to play around, so kids like me everywhere I go.”
One of Eason’s favorite community service projects involved a spelling bee and haircut. Last year, Eason grew his hair out and then played host to a group of students from Westminster Elementary on Clemson’s campus. At the end of the day, the students held a spelling bee with a twist. Each time a student spelled a word correctly, he or she got to cut a lock of Eason’s hair. Needless to say, the elementary school students loved the challenge, and Eason loved making the students laugh.
Another one of his favorite memories was in the dunking booth. Despite a dislike for water, Eason volunteered to be in a dunking booth in Pendleton. As he tells it, “The booth was set so that if the kids hit the wall, I would fall. Well, I was falling in every time someone threw a ball. It was fun and the kids loved it.”
When asked how he juggles football, academics, community service and family expectations, Eason had a quick answer. “You have to give everything – give 100 percent to everything you do. From a community service perspective, I remember when I was a little kid and the great impact that even the high school athletes had on me and how I looked up to those guys. Everything they did was what I wanted to do. Being involved in community service and spending time with kids is a chance to give back.
“There are a lot of kids in single-parent homes out there who need male or female role models. It’s not like I go out every day and give 10 hours a day. It’s an hour here and hour there and whenever I have a little bit of time – that’s all it takes to touch one kid’s life. I try to give something back. Not many people get a chance to come to college, and it’s a way to show kids that if I can do it, they can do it too.”
Judging from the honors he has received both on the field and in the community, Eason has accomplished his goal – he not only met the expectations, but he surpassed them. In the words of one of his coaches, Nick Eason has been an outstanding student-athlete throughout his career at Clemson. He exemplifies the spirit within an individual that thrives off the field within the community and academically within the classroom. He has been an excellent football player on the field and is a great ambassador for Clemson and a great example for all student-athletes.”
Anne Miller is in her second year as an assistant sports information director at Clemson.
March 14, 2019