Smithfield grad embracing football, military life at Air Force Academy
Jordan Eason immersed himself in Portuguese in Brazil this summer (courtesy of Jordan Eason, Daily Press / June 3, 2011)
Many college football players spend the summer training for the season and acing some crib course. Eason just returned from four weeks of studying Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro.
A 2008 Smithfield High graduate, Eason is a rising junior offensive lineman at the Air Force Academy. Neither of his parents — father Merrill Eason is a Conference USA football official — served in the military, and he never envisioned himself saluting and marching, but Eason has embraced not only routine academy life but also its myriad extracurriculars.
"You're not picking a school," he said from his Colorado Spring quarters. "You're picking a lifestyle for the next 10 years."
Indeed, Air Force cadets are obligated to five years of military service upon graduation. Add the year Eason spent at the academy's prep school, and you get a decade.
Eason was a four-year starter at Smithfield and an All-Bay Rivers District selection. Norfolk State offered him a full scholarship, and East Carolina encouraged him to walk on. Then, out of the blue, Air Force offensive coordinator and line coach Clay Hendrix called.
Eason had never heard of the academy, but the more he learned, the more he liked. And listening to then-Smithfield coach Chris Fraser, you realize why it was an ideal match.
"He played every snap," said Fraser, now at Maury High. "Never missed a practice, never was late to a practice. He was just one of those guys who you knew, like clockwork, you could count on."
That reliability and toughness have served Eason well on and off the field at Air Force.
Start with combat survival training, a rite of passage for cadets the summer after freshman year. Eason described the ordeal as follows:
In groups of five, cadets are dumped in the mountainous woods of Saylor Park for nine days. Each has a single MRE (meal ready to eat) and a coat — yes, it can get a bit nippy in the Colorado hills during the summer.
Five days are spent scavenging whatever nourishment — plants, insects, worms — is available. Four days are reserved for evasion techniques — hide-and-seek with serious consequences.
But that's not all. Then comes resistance training, what to do if captured by the enemy and coerced for information.
"It's one of the hardest programs at the academy," Eason said. "But I think as a future officer it's important to know."
And what might the coercion program entail?
"I'm not really allowed to tell you that because it's classified," Eason said. "You can let your imagination go. They're not going to take it too far, but they want to make it realistic."
The twin ordeals cost Eason 32 pounds, hardly ideal for a left guard already considered light at 255. But he restored much of the weight and became a vital cog in a line that helped Air Force finish No. 2 nationally in rushing en route to a 9-4 record.
"He's bright, a good student and a darned good football player," Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said. "He has that leadership aptitude."