Steelers' Eason contributing again after medical scare
By John Harris
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Steelers defensive end Nick Eason recorded his first sack in two years in a recent win against Tampa Bay.
It gave him pause because a few months earlier, he was so sick he didn't know if he was going to survive, much less play football again.
"There was a point when I was in the hospital, I didn't think I was going to make it out of there," Eason said about having his appendix and part of his colon removed less than two months before the start of training camp. "I was told appendix surgery is really minor, takes about 20 minutes. I was under for two hours.
"They removed a small part of my (colon) because bacteria had seeped from the appendix into my bowels. I just had so many complications — infections, high blood pressure, high fever, my bowels being inflamed. Every day was something different."
Eason's recovery period, initially expected to last two weeks, was extended to six weeks — one week before the opening of training camp in late July.
Still, Eason's focus was participating in the conditioning run that takes place when players report to camp.
"(Coach) Mike (Tomlin) told me we probably weren't going to let Nick run because he didn't have a lot of time to get in shape. When I saw him in the hospital, there was a question in my mind whether he would be able to come back," defensive line coach John Mitchell said. "Nick came to me and said, 'I can do it; I want to do it.' That shows you the type of guy Nick is."
Added Eason: "The only way I'm going to get in shape is just throw myself in there. That first week of camp, I felt nauseated and lightheaded every day. I'm thinking, 'Man, what am I doing?' "
Miraculously, Eason regained his stamina and strength to become an important part of a defensive-line rotation that specializes in stopping the run. This week, the Steelers rank No. 1 in the NFL against the run.
Eason's teammates appreciate what he overcame to return to the field so quickly and effectively.
"This summer, really, he should have died," starting right defensive end Brett Keisel said. "He got into the hospital late, and they didn't understand what was wrong. The guy barely gets out of his hospital bed and has to report to training camp. He practiced all through camp and never let it be an excuse."
Added Aaron Smith, the Steelers' other starting defensive end: "Not many guys would be playing here right now with all the things he had to deal with."
Eason, 30, is a realist about his career. He's an eight-year veteran who has played with three teams in a backup role. His four-year stint with the Steelers is his longest with any team.
Eason, whose father recently suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side and whose mother is recovering from cancer, already is pondering life after football. He's 1 1/2 years away from obtaining his second master's degree after becoming the first player at Clemson to graduate with two years of eligibility remaining.
"You've always got to be working toward Plan B — life after football," said Eason, who wants to remain in athletics, perhaps as a coach or administrator, when his playing days are over. "I'm not a $100 million guy.
"Don't get me wrong, I've made a lot of money compared to the average person. But I can't live off what I make for the rest of my life. I'm going to have to get a job. I have to plan for life after football now."
John Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org