For the more than 30 years, Gatorade has honored the nation’s most elite high school athletes for their athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character with the Gatorade Player of the Year award. On July 13, the 12 Gatorade National Players of the Year from the 2014-15 season will gather in Hollywood, where the 13th annual Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year award will be presented to the best overall male and female athlete.
In the days leading to the presentation, USA TODAY High School Sports will profile each of the 12 candidates — six boys and six girls.
This installment features National Football Player of the Year Jacob Eason from Lake Stevens, Wash.
Lake Stevens (Wash.) senior quarterback Jacob Eason did more than receive the 2015-16 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year during a surprise ceremony at the Seattle Seahawks training facility in December. He used the opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to the University of Georgia.
Eason planned to graduate days later and enroll early in college. Following the departure of coach Mark Richt at Georgia, Eason had been exploring other options and had taken visits to Florida and Washington.
After being presented with his Gatorade trophy by Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks, Eason decided to make the decision public. Eason’s affirmation is a substantial step for new Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart.
“It was completely surreal,” said Eason, 18. “I’m pretty overwhelmed right now. To think that this trophy has gone through the years and gone to guys like Peyton Manning, whose jersey I have at home, and LeBron, who I’ve grown up watching on TV, it’s just amazing. Then Bobby Wagner is here, who I watch every Sunday. I’m starstruck. It’s kind of a life-changing moment.”
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound signal-caller completed 235-of-338 passes for 3,587 yards and 43 touchdowns against just six interceptions this past season, leading the Vikings (12-1) to the Class 4A semifinals.
RELATED: Q&A with Jacob Eason
A national Elite 11 quarterback camp invitee and ranked as the nation’s No. 16 overall recruit in the ESPN 300, Eason has been selected to play in the 2016 U.S. Army All-American Bowl and is rated the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2016 by 247Sports.
“This was extremely fun to surprise him,” said Wagner, 25, currently his team’s second-leading tackler with 54 solos. “I thought I was the only one doing the surprising, but then he puts down the trophy and announces he’s sticking with UGA. For a kid like that to do it in the classroom and community too, it shows we’re more than just football players.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field. Eason is now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
“Eason has size, strength, athleticism and can make all the throws from all the angles,” said Greg Biggins, national recruit analyst for Scout.com. “He moves well. He owns a ‘plus’ tool in every category. He’s a smart kid who was raised on football. Put him in any system and he’ll excel.”
Eason, who turned 18 in November, has maintained a 3.83 GPA in the classroom. An active member of his Holy Cross Catholic Church community, he has volunteered with the Never Ever Give Up foundation, helping to ensure childen fighting cancer get the support and resources they need, in addition to visiting with patients. He has also donated his time as the coordinator and head coach for quarterbacks at the Vikings Junior Football Camp and as a four-year instructor at the Vikings Passing Academy.