Seven years ago, Jean Eason was far from the Queen City. After high school, the offensive lineman enlisted in the U.S. Army and was on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He returned home with one goal on his mind: to run through the tunnel and play football at the collegiate level.
During his high school career, Eason wasn’t stellar in the academic field or on the football field. Following high school Eason joined the armed forces saying it was “the only opportunity” that he really had.
“I’m not afraid to tell people that in high school, I was a late bloomer. I wouldn’t say I got good until my senior year, and even that was just okay,” Eason said.
Though he didn’t tout the impressive career in football, Eason harnessed a love for the game and carried that with him as he ventured overseas. After enduring boot camp, he went on his first training exercise in Bulgaria. One night, laying in his bunk while listening to his iPod, Eason had an epiphany.
“I was just laying on that bed, and I envisioned running out of a tunnel with thousands of fans screaming and excited, and being so jacked up and so hyped. I almost cried laying in the bed. Not cried like of failure but tears of excitement. Right then I told myself if I ever get the opportunity, I’m going to take it,” Eason said.
At the conclusion of his time overseas, he returned to the States and picked up a job as a debt collector. The monotony of this job, paired with his urge to learn drew him to make the decision to attend college.
“One day, I was working at a dead-end job I couldn’t do. I was a debt collector, over the phone calling people all day. One day I got fed up, I gave myself a head ache from staring at the screen all day. I remember, I called my dad on my lunch break and I told him ‘I’m going to quit my job, I can’t do this anymore, I want to go to school,'” Eason said.
Once he made the jump of becoming a full-time student, Eason then revived his dream of playing collegiate football.
“I had narrowed it down to two different schools. I figured since both those schools had football programs, I said you know what, I’m doing it, I’m here, I’m becoming a full-time student, go play football. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? You go out there and they tell you you can’t play, you’re cut?” Eason said.
Three or four years had passed and Eason had not played a real down of football. That didn’t effect him though, and he found himself on the roster of City College of San Francisco’s team. Starting for the notable squad provided Eason with the platform to make the jump to NCAA football. By the conclusion of his two year tenure in San Francisco Eason had received offers from multiple Division I schools including Cincinnati, East Carolina, Colorado State, Georgia State and Charlotte.
“For me to be able to not only play there, but to start for two years, I was able to position myself to get seen by Division I schools, Division II schools,” Eason said. “I feel like I had a school at every level showing interest in me. To get Division I offers was just a dream come true. I never, I was expecting to go Division II or III at best, which would have been totally fine with me. So getting a Division I offer was just the icing on the cake.”
When he was narrowing down schools, Eason kept two pieces of criteria in mind: He wanted to live wherever he attended school post-grad, and he wanted to go somewhere where he was felt needed.
“Coach Lambert and Coach Richardson showed me nothing but love my entire recruiting process. Coach Lambert flew all the way from Charlotte just to see me in California. I don’t believe he went to California to see anyone else, just me. That said a lot for me,” Eason said.
When he signed with the 49ers in February of 2017, Eason was 27 years old, making him the oldest player on the roster. Though he has experienced more in life than some of his peers, that doesn’t translate into the locker room.
“I am on paper the oldest person on the team, but honestly if these guys didn’t know how old I was, I don’t even think people would be able to tell the difference,” Eason said. “I try to learn from them just as much as I feel they try to learn from me. They can teach me stuff just like I can teach them stuff. They are teaching me stuff, every day I learn something new from them. They keep me caught up with the times, I’ll never not know what’s in style.”
His fellow lineman, Eugene German appreciates Eason’s age and all that he has sacrificed to be in the position he’s in today.
“Having him, he’s an older guy, he has a lot of experience just in life. As a leader, he’s just given us wisdom. I can’t say enough about Jean, he’s just a good guy. He really put it all on the line to go serve his country and fulfill his dream of playing college football. He’s a good man,” German said.
On a clear September afternoon, Eason was able to live out the fantasy he envisioned while stationed in Germany. During Charlotte’s home opener against N.C. A&T, he ran through the tunnel, into a cloud of smoke and was greeted by over 18,000 screaming fans.
“There are no words. It’s surreal, chilling. I can say, aside from the birth of my children, I have never felt more proud or happier, just genuine happiness, for anything,” Eason said. “I will never forget that day, ever. I don’t care what the outcome was, I don’t care what happened that day on the field. That was special to me, I’ll tell my grandkids about that one day. I’ll put that in my memoirs.”