View Full Version : Eason surviving, thriving

10-26-2010, 10:38 PM
Eason surviving, thriving
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By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
Monday October 25, 2010 11:44 PM

Steelers defensive end Nick Eason. Times photo by Lucy Schaly

PITTSBURGH — Nick Eason has always been appreciative of the God-given skills that have allowed him to play professional football for eight seasons. This year, he’s especially thankful. He’s playing after overcoming a life-threatening event.

“I was in a very serious situation. I almost died,” said Eason, a 30-year-old defensive end. “That’s why I feel truly blessed to be here.”

Eason, who made his first start of the season Sunday while Brett Keisel sat out with a hamstring pull, became gravely ill in early June.

For several weeks, he had experienced stomach pains. But being a big, tough guy who’s fought through pain so often since his high school football days in Georgia, he shrugged off those pains.

Even though Eason knew something was wrong, he still took part took in the Steelers’ off-season conditioning program, the mandatory three-day mini camp and most of the 14 voluntary organized team activities.

“I guess you can say I was walking around with a nuclear bomb in my stomach,” Eason said.

But when the pain became too excruciating on June 7, one of his friends drove Eason to a hospital. And while hospitalized, things only got worse.

Not only was Eason suffering from appendicitis, he also had an allergic reaction to antibiotics given to him. Then after the appendectomy, it was discovered that his appendix seeped bacteria into his bowels. So doctors had to remove a part of his colon.

“I had so many complications. Infections. High blood pressure. Fever. My bowels were inflamed. Every day was something different,” Eason said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it out of the hospital.”

But on July 30, when the Steelers reported to training camp, Eason took part in the team’s annual conditioning test, a series of eight 100 yard wind sprints.

He had lost 29 pounds during his ordeal. He had not worked out since first going to the hospital. He had no idea if he’d be able to get through the run test. But he was going to try.
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“He did get through the run test,” said Chris Hoke, the Steelers’ backup nose tackle. “I know because I ran the run test with him. I remember Nick telling me that he was running for the first time since he got sick.

“No question it was tough for him. But he fought through it. And he fought through it during all of training camp.”

Slowly but surely, Eason regained his strength, weight and stamina. He’s still not quite back to 100 percent. But he’s played well as a reserve in the Steelers’ first five games and he held his own this past Sunday in Miami.

“I’m just doing my job and trying to take advantage of the opportunities I’m getting,” Eason said. “I’m just trying to help this team any way I can.”

It’s not sure if Keisel will play this Sunday when the Steelers (5-1) face the New Orleans Saints (4-3) in the Louisiana Superdome. Even if Keisel returns as the starter at right defensive end, Eason figures to get his share of snaps because left defensive end Aaron Smith is out for the season with a torn triceps muscle.

Ziggy Hood will likely replace Smith in the starting lineup, but Eason will at least be the first sub at D-end.

Either way, he’s just happy to be playing after a tumultuous off-season that included his mother battling breast cancer and his father suffering a stroke.

“I’m just trying to make this my best season,” Eason said. “I want my life to be testimony for other people who are going through something tough in their lives.

“Just because things don’t look so bright right now, they will in the future. Keep hoping and keep the faith.”

10-26-2010, 11:58 PM
Nick Eason is a helluva guy. Here's a neat story about him from training camp. It's old, but very telling of the kind of person he is:

How does a football field, at 300 feet long and 160 feet wide, become a mile?

You watch big-hearted Steelers defensive lineman Nick Eason become an impromptu tour guide for Girard’s Hunter Crites — and hang on for the ride.

It was one mile of back and forth and zig and zag and up hills.

It was 30 minutes of huffing and puffing, and cheers from fans who caught on to Eason’s heartfelt act.

And it was a memory of a lifetime for Hunter — a frontman of sorts for Easter Seals of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana Counties. This past year, he produced some tear-shedding moments when he was able to walk without his crutches at the Easter Seals Spring Fashion Show.

Last week, a few folks from the Mahoning Valley conspired to surprise Hunter — a big Steelers fan — with a trip to Steelers training camp. It stayed a secret until Hunter arrived in the Latrobe, Pa., parking lot Monday with his mom, Stephanie, and aunt, Julie, in tow.

Training camp is regimented for the players. So it goes, too, for special guests. Stand here, go there, don’t approach the players, stay behind this line, etc.

For the two-hour practice, Hunter had a nice experience, the highlight of which was linebacker James Farrior giving him some Gatorade.

When a practice ends, the players roam — they stay for extra drills, work out, hang out with family, sign autographs for fans or disappear into the dorms and away from the plus-90 degree heat.

That’s when Eason found Hunter.

Eason asked Hunter about football and the Steelers. Hunter demonstrated his sprinting ability — crutches and all. At some point in that initial meeting, Eason set out on his own agenda — no permission, no warning. He hustled Hunter into his stroller, and the push was on.

Scanning the field, they first went to lineman Chris Kemoeatu, then they ran across the field to safety Troy Polamalu, then back across the field to quarterback Dennis Dixon, then wide receiver Mike Wallace, then ex-Steeler Jeff Hartings, then Farrior and linebacker Larry Foote.

Coach Mike Tomlin was talking to choir kids, and Nick interrupted. Wide receiver Hines Ward was interrupted during some stretching.

All smiles, all autographs, all pictures — and all memories for a little boy.

The Steelers dormitory is across two football fields and up a hill (a pretty good one), and there’s where a handful of players signed autographs for about 1,500 fans who lined up in the 5 p.m. heat.

Eason ran Hunter over there. Mascot Steely McBeam was first, then punter Dan Sepulveda, then rookie Maurkice Pouncey.

Along the tour, Eason also was the comedian.

On Kemoeatu: “See this big guy here? It’s so hot, he’s done lost his mind. He don’t know who he is.”

On mascot Steely McBeam: “He’s not as strong as he looks.”

On Sepulveda: “He’s a nice guy; he’s our pretty guy, too.”

First-round draft pick Pouncey got the best:

“This is our first-round draft pick. He smiles all the time because he just got paid. Big ol’ payday. He got lots of money.”

To which Hunter replied: “I got a lot of names.”

That whole part was magical.

What was to come was moving.

Eason pushed Hunter around the field in a stroller without much ado from fans and players — until the climb up the 100-foot-long hill to the dorm. Then fans picked up on his effort and started cheering and chanting “Nick, Nick ...”

The top of the hill was greeted with a 20-stair climb to the dormitory. There, defensive lineman Doug Worthington met an out-of-breath Eason:

“Can I help you, Nick?”

“Yeah ...,” he said between gulps of air.

The two carried Hunter up — to more wild applause and cheers.

At the top, a dripping Eason found a chair next to a girl in a wheelchair. He introduced the girl and Hunter, and the three chatted in their own little world — in front of about 1,000 more fans.

Two hours of practice in plus-90-degree heat was followed by 20 minutes of pushing an 8-year-old in a stroller across four football fields, which closed with a long walk up a hill and 20 stairs.

Still, Eason decided to teach Hunter about signing autographs.

For 20 minutes more, the two walked the fan line like it was Oscar night.

Fred and Ginger; Tony and Tina; Nick and Hunter. Nick signed away. So did Hunter.

Some ladies asked for Hunter to sign first. Another person wanted her Art Rooney book signed by Hunter. Even young girls gave their notebooks to Hunter.

He was a pro.

“He’s on our roster,” Eason teased to the fans about Hunter. “We just forgot to put his name down. He’s on the VIP list; not with the regular scrubs like us.”

At last, the line ended. Thankfully. Eason would have continued.

Tired, thirsty, exhausted — Eason gave hugs and handshakes to Hunter’s group. And with a slower gait and sunken shoulders, he trudged his way into the dorm along the fan line he and Hunter just conquered. Nice applause lingered from fans who knew of his feat.

Our Steeler media handler (who likes to stay out of the media) looked at me a couple of times as Nick and Hunter worked the line — and we smiled. Media handlers and media have an unwritten rule: Don’t smile at each other. This is work, after all.

“This is just Nick,” she said as she stared at the improbable scene before her.

Eason’s role-player career has been stable and rewarding in Pittsburgh. This year sees him battling for a backup spot while returning from a near-death battle in the offseason with appendicitis that went awry.

He’s on a one-year contract, and coaches have said having an experienced guy ready to jump in is vital to a good defense.

Huge paydays such as Pouncey’s and a date with the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton are likely not in Eason’s football future.

But if big paydays were earned by kindness, and Canton was assigned to guys who could seize a moment of good will and make it for all it’s worth, Eason is in.

“I did it because it just popped up,” Eason said. “It may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wanted to make sure he remembered it.”