I don't think BYU goals will change this year, but this team will be better than the one I played for a year ago. —Corby Eason
PROVO — Corby Eason is facing the first August without football since he was seven.
But the former starting BYU cornerback has much to be grateful for, things that football gave him. And he's got an interesting perspective on how his former team will fare in 2012 as both the Cougars and Utes kick off fall practice this week.
He predicts BYU will be better this year than a year ago.
Eason, a native of Georgia, was playing golf at East Bay in a fundraiser for Provo High when I pinned him down on his thoughts and his personal situation. Always humble and forthcoming, Eason spoke candidly, as always.
"I've been playing my entire life and this is different," he said. "I'm not used to summers without football."
Eason plans to become a mortgage account executive and will take the state exam this week. He also hopes to help coach Woods Cross High, where he can keep himself in the game.
Eason remains close to BYU football and just had "the guys" over to his house for a barbecue this past weekend. "Guys," meaning current members of BYU's secondary.
As an independent, Eason said 2011 was all about BYU earning respect and trying to find a route to a national championship opportunity. The Cougars got 10 wins, but fell short of the ultimate goal.
"I don't think BYU goals will change this year, but this team will be better than the one I played for a year ago," said Eason.
Eason said players are more prepared than a year ago. He also praises the leadership of quarterback Riley Nelson.
"We were a very physical defense last year and I believe that will be the personality this year. We hit every quarterback we played against last year and sent them to the bench for at least a couple of plays. This team will do a lot of that this year. That gets you respect, if you hit hard."
Eason said BYU may have won 10 games last year, but they didn't get over the hump. Losing to Utah in a blowout was "disheartening" and Eason said there is motivation to get past that this year. "It was harder for me because my in-laws are Utah alumni. It's a must-win."
Eason said Nelson works hard every day and gives his all on every play. "He's a great kid and the team follows him and looks up to him. I remember when I took my visit to BYU three years ago and met him — he was a guy that has a lot of fight in him. You saw that in the win over Utah State. With him, our team keeps swinging until the final blow. That does something to a team to have that kind of personality up front and center."
Eason expects Preston Hadley to hold down one cover spot on the boundary but predicts redshirt freshman Jordan Johnson will be one of the finest corners the Cougars have produced.
"I'm calling it right now. He is a very special player. He has talent and the skills to be one of the best. I've never been around a corner with as much athletic ability as he has. I felt he should have started at field corner last year and I should have been behind him, but that was a coaching decision."
Eason said BYU could have a special season in 2012. "From where we were a year ago at this point and where this team is right now heading into camp, there is no comparison — this team is ahead of last year. It wouldn't surprise me if they went undefeated."
Of course, as Utah and BYU camps open this week, all are undefeated and enthusiasm is high.
For Eason, however, this summer represents the first in a life his friends he grew up with envy. Two of his friends, brothers, are in prison. One is serving a sentence for armed robbery when just 14. His younger brother followed him to prison after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter, also when he was 14.
Eason received his degree in psychology from BYU this past April and the NCAA awarded him with academic honors. A Baptist growing up in Georgia, after his second year in Provo he converted to the LDS faith and was sealed to his sweetheart in the Las Vegas Temple on Jan. 28.
"I remember when I first came to college, we were playing San Diego State and the team drove by the San Diego Temple. I said to myself one day I wanted to go inside that building. This past year, on our honeymoon, Rebecca and I did go in that temple. It was wonderful and I feel so blessed. My relatives back home, the younger kids look up to me for going to college and trying to make something out of myself.
"I feel fortunate that I got go to play major college football, get an education, meet my wife and have the life I do. I'm a lucky man and coming to Provo changed my life. Many of my friends I grew up with that I talk to — they are happy for me and what is happening."
On Monday, on the lush greens at East Bay, Eason was in a little piece of heaven, hitting balls, some of them pretty well, others not so. But he didn't care.
This summer without football is the next in the rest of his life.
And his life is good.
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