PROVO — Corby Eason never should have ended up at BYU in the first place. It wasn't long after arriving there, however, that he found himself at home, fully immersing himself into every aspect of the school and the football program.
When then-BYU assistant coach Patrick Higgins made his way to upstate New York to recruit a player back in 2009, he didn't have Eason in mind — he didn't even know who Eason was. Higgins was there, at Erie Community College, to recruit Andre Kates, who was considered to be one of the top JC cornerback prospects nationally at the time.
Higgins didn't find much success in his efforts to woo Kates to Provo, but as Higgins prepared to leave, another prospect introduced himself.
"Andre told me about the meeting and I made up my mind to just wait outside the room where they were meeting to introduce myself, and let them know that I'm a corner and I can play," Eason said.
Eason's presence there wasn't granted by his coach, who insisted that his then-freshman starting cornerback go to class. According to Eason, his coach didn't want to lose him for his sophomore season, but that didn't work with what Eason personally had in mind.
"Yeah, I was disobedient to coach — I was bad, but looking back, I certainly don't regret disobeying that one time. I wanted to take any chance that I could to play Division I football," he said.
After waiting for about 30 minutes, the 5-foot-8 Eason went right up to Higgins, attempting to sell himself as best he could as a legitimate Division I prospect. It's unclear how much effect the initial introduction had, but fortunately for Eason, he had a full reel of highlights to sell as well.
Before long, Eason found his way on a plane ride out to Provo to take an official visit to BYU after every coach had evaluated his film and given it their stamp of approval.
For the Columbus, Ga., native, Provo and BYU were very much the polar opposite of the environment he grew up in. But that was a good thing — something that BYU had going for them as Eason got off the plane for his first official introduction to Provo.
"I grew up in a very rough neighborhood with a lot of violence," said Eason. "It's a place where you always have to watch your back, keep your doors locked and struggle to keep out of trouble. It's home, and a place I love, but it's a place I definitely wanted to get away from."
His official trip brought a commitment, as he signed with BYU almost immediately in preparation to join the team for the 2009 season. He joined the team that year along with junior college transfers Lee Aguirre and Brian Logan, both of whom were regarded much higher as prospects at the time.
Eason was able to prove himself, though, earning playing time and a secure spot on the Cougars' two-deep roster, logging playing time in every game that first year. For Eason, he was driven by the doubt most coaches and evaluators held for him.
"My whole life, every coach — my high school coaches would tell me and tell recruiters that I wasn't a Division I athlete, but that I could only play Division-2 ball or junior college ball," he said. "I never accepted that and I've been aiming to prove them wrong ever since. I think I've definitely done that."
Eason has played a key role in the Cougars' secondary with every year he's been in the program. He split time with Brandon Bradley for two seasons at the boundary corner position before gaining the starting nod at field corner for his senior season.
Finding a spot and proving himself on the football field was only half the battle, however.
Eason came to Provo as a non-LDS, minority student-athlete — within a demographic that is a distinct minority at BYU, to put it mildly. He incurred the initial culture shock, finding a completely different social environment than he was accustomed to.
"It was tough — tougher than I thought it would be," he said. "I remember just going to class like everyone else, but everyone else would just stare at me. It was uncomfortable, but I decided to have fun with it and just wave 'hi' to everyone that would stare. And then they'd look away, not knowing what to do, and I had a lot of fun with it."
After a couple of months at BYU, however, Eason began to regard the place as his home. Those same stares grew into welcome greetings as he began to reach out and become known as a friendly guy who was at BYU for a lot of the same reasons most everyone else was.
His fellow teammates — four in particular — helped out with his acclimation.
"Andrew Rich, Brandon Bradley, Scott Johnson and Brian Logan — that was the group," he said. "We did everything together, and we're still all really close, and they were a huge help to me in learning how to fit in and learn how to succeed at BYU."
According to Eason, a lot of his success can be attributed to completely immersing himself into every single precept preached by head coach Bronco Mendenhall. While some athletes take bits and pieces of Mendenhall's program, Eason went all-in.
That all-in effort came to a head with him choosing to get baptized into the LDS Church last November. He was prompted to investigate the church further by his wife, along with holding some personal genuine interest born soon after he arrived at BYU.
Mendenhall himself played a big role in Eason electing to get baptized.
"As soon as I told Coach Mendenhall that I was interested, he let me borrow a CD called 'The 17 Truths of the Gospel,' " Eason said. "I just started listening to that CD and it just let me know that this church was true, and it didn't take long until I was baptized because I knew it was true.
"I tried to fight taking discussions when I first got here — not wanting to just give in or whatever — but you just see how happy people are and how well everyone lives, and it's hard to not want that same thing in your own life."
According to Eason, his life has improved tremendously from the very second he got baptized, seeing increased blessings along the way.
"My family has seen how I've grown as a man and now they're interested. They want to start taking the discussions, and that's a huge blessing," he said. "There's some athletes that come here wanting too much to be different, but the more you want to be different and the more you try to be different the worse your experience will be. I know that for myself.
"But if you just do what is right, then you're going to be happy. The happiness I've found being at BYU and being a member of the church — I can't even explain to you how much more happy I am as a person."
Eason has taken full advantage of the educational benefits of BYU as well. He'll graduate this year with a degree in psychology, and he currently holds a 3.4 grade point average.
He's a player that Mendenhall will miss, having been able to see a lot of growth within him since he first got to BYU.
"He's really fit in well here," he said. "He's become a member of the church, he's become a team leader — a team favorite. He's married now, and when he goes back home he'll be a great example to those in his neighborhood. It's a pretty inspiring story. It just shows that when a young man wants this experience, no matter where he's from, no matter what race or what faith, that it can be a great experience."
Email: [email protected] Twitter: @BrandonCGurney