Fun Loving Eason Rounding Back into Form

by - Correspondent -
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<font class=caption>Nick Eason poses for the camera on fan day.</a>
Nick Eason poses for the camera on fan day.

CLEMSON - The way Nick Eason figures it, a portion of Clemson's defensive
struggles in 2001 can be attributed directly to him.

No, Eason wasn't getting torched in pass coverage, but he was playing a new
position on two gimpy feet.

The more he struggled, the more withdrawn he became. The man who might very
well hold his own with the NBA's Gary Payton in a trash-talking contest found
little to yap about a year ago.

And as anyone who follows Clemson football knows, a quiet Nick Eason is not a
happy Nick Eason.

"I was coming off (Achilles tendon surgery) and it wasn't fully healed, and
then I ended up spraining my other ankle," Eason said. "It was kind of
frustrating. I think I did a bad job of handling that situation."

Understand that Eason is the type of player sought out by the media on a
daily basis because of his outgoing personality.

He is bright, funny, more forthcoming than perhaps some of his coaches would
like, and quick to joke with whoever might be standing close by - friend,
teammate, reporter. It never seems to matter.

But the playful banter was noticeably missing last year, and Eason said it's
because he wasn't mentally prepared for his struggles.

"I was really frustrated, kind of in my own world worrying about myself," he
said. "It's kind of frustrating sitting on the side watching the team
practice. A lot of guys saw me that way and it kind of brought our defense
down a little bit more.

"I was really down about it. I didn't have the same attitude, laughing and
playing around. It was just a real hard time for me, and I look around and
guys are watching and listening to everything I do and everything I say. I'm
a vocal leader on the defense, and I wasn't talking much.

"It was my junior year, and I think the coaches and fans were depending on me
to come out and have a great year. It's kind of like I let down a lot of

The numbers back up Eason's claims.

He played through his injury and appeared in every game, starting 11 of the
12 (counting the Humanitarian Bowl). But in 500 plays he made just 37 total
tackles - 19 first hits and 18 assists.

Very average numbers for a player who considers himself far above average.

But with a new year comes a new outlook, and so far Eason appears to be back
to his old self.

Laughing and joking with the media again during Sunday's Fan Day, Eason
playfully predicted he would be the first Tiger to start a fight in practice.
He doesn't have the opponent picked out yet, but figures as two-a-days
proceed and the heat makes its expected return, some unlucky suspect will
emerge from Clemson's offense.

"I won't be breaking any knuckles on somebody's helmet," Eason said. "I'll go
for a couple of body shots instead."

More than the playfulness, though, is his health. Two good feet and an extra
15 pounds of muscle added during the offseason have Eason convinced of two

- He will have a better season, therefore ensuring the entire defense is

- He has a shot at fulfilling his dream of playing professional football.

"I finally feel 100 percent, I worked hard all summer long and I'm in great
shape," he said. "I want to continue that on into the season."

And if the injuries return?

"You go through situations and learn how to handle situations," Eason said.
"The next time it comes around you know how to handle it. So if it happens
again, if I don't have anything positive to say I won't say anything.

"But I don't expect that to happen."


- The watch for incoming freshmen Duane Coleman and Tymere Zimmerman continues. Bowden declined to comment if either had qualified as of today. "It's going to be close," said Bowden. "We should know something on both soon."

- David Dunham had an interception in the morning and has impressed Bowden at the inside linebacker position. "He is a contact player," said Bowden. "We've got to find a way to get him on the field. He will flat out knock your head off."

- Tight end Bobby Williamson returned to practice today. Brian Carr is out with a hamstring injury, while Dustin Fry, the freshman offensive lineman who suffered a dislocated kneecap last week, also is in a yellow jersey. Kevin Youngblood saw just limited action due to a sprained foot.

- With the Tigers putting on the pads for the first time on Tuesday Bowden looks to have a more physical practice this year than last due to the inexperience on the team. "We have a lot of youth on both lines. The defensive line needs to practice the physical part of the game and the offensive line needs to communicate, that is so important. You only get that experience by hitting and doing goal line work. We will do much more of that this year than last year." Bowden, however, said some changes to blocking schemes will be made to try to prevent injuries such as the season ending one to Altroy Bodrick last year.

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Florence Morning News. He also hosts SportsTalk from 10 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.

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