ATHENS, Ga. — Reaching the College Football Playoff is everything Georgia fans hoped would happen when Jacob Eason stuck with his commitment to the Bulldogs and was the headliner in the 2016 signing class.
The sophomore quarterback’s reduced role this season as the backup to true freshman Jake Fromm was never in the script many would have envisioned.
That’s the reality Eason has lived with since early in the season, when a sprained left knee ligament knocked him off his perch as the starter; a spot that Fromm stepped into and never relinquished.
Now, Eason is preparing for the next game as if he might play in case he gets the call, just like he’s done all season working with offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jim Chaney.
This one just so happens to be the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma on Monday.
“Like coach Chaney preaches, it’s one play away,” Eason said. “Just like what’s happened to me. That’s why you’ve got to stay in the game plan. You’ve got to stay alert at practice. You’ve got to take every rep seriously.”
Eason spoke to reporters for the first time since before his injury after the SEC championship win over Auburn. His Mercedes-Benz locker was right next to Fromm.
“We finished the way we wanted to,” Eason said. “That was the goal at the beginning of the season.”
Eason, who returned home to Lake Stevens, Wash., during the team’s break for Christmas, said it would “be cool,” to go to the Rose Bowl a day before the destination was known.
“I’ve been to that stadium a couple of times,” he said.
Eason said coach Kirby Smart talked to him when he recruited him after his hire about his vision for winning SEC championships.
Georgia accomplished it with Eason on the sidelines while Fromm started the past 12 games, helped lead the Bulldogs to the SEC title and was named the league’s freshman of the year.
“That’s football,” said Eason, who has played in six games, completing 4 of 7 passes for 28 yards. “In life you’re going to be hit with obstacles and some are going to be out of your control. Some you can control, but this one was out of my control.
“I did the best thing I thought I could do: be there for Jake. If he struggles, I’m going to help him. If he’s doing good, I’m going to praise him. I think Jake did a great job this whole season.”
Eason said he’s “a team player,” so he celebrates with his teammates even if his on-field contribution now isn’t what he expected.
“He’s still a great leader towards all of us,” center Lamont Gaillard said. “He isn’t selfish. He still keeps a level mind between everybody. He still claps for Jake when he does great things and still gets on him when he does it wrong. He’s still Jake. He’s going to be that guy. We thank him for it.”
Eason didn’t have much to say about his future beyond this season, including whether he will transfer once it is over.
“I’m just taking it a day at a time here,” said Eason, who passed for 2,430 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season while completing 55 percent of his passes. “I’m just glad to be a Bulldog.”
Georgia last week signed quarterback Justin Fields, ranked as the nation’s No. 1 overall player by ESPN, to go along with Fromm in 2018.
Eason isn’t dwelling on the late hit on the sideline on Georgia’s third offensive series of the season against Appalachian State that changed the direction of his college career.
“You could be mad about it, you could sulk about it all season, but I took what happened and did what I could with it,” Eason said. “I did what I could to help the team get better and I was there with Jake and with Brice. I’m the same person in the quarterback room.”
Eason still can make the wow throws on the practice field that make people remember why he was such a big deal as a five-star quarterback and the nation’s No. 1 pro-style quarterback by Rivals.com.
“We don’t forget about him at all,” Gaillard said. “Trust me, he’s still Jacob Eason. It’s crazy to have him out there and still be the man he is knowing his job was taken, but it just comes with the game. You’ve just got to accept it.”
Eason has accepted his role for a team two wins away from the national title and remains on standby if called upon.
“That moment, I doubt it will come,” Eason said. “I hope it never does come, but if it (does), I’ll be ready.”