Running back Cordera Eason's career as a Rebel has been defined by distinct roles. First as a promising incoming freshman. Then as a special teams player and underused backup.
But now, as a junior, the talked-about potential has an opportunity to coincide with playing time and successful results. Billed as the hunted after two years in the shadows, Eason feels at ease and is grateful for the opportunity to be "in the mix."
However, the top isn't a lonely place of pressure and isolation. Newcomers are lining up to take the crown. Thanks to the signing of three able-bodied freshmen backs, Eason is proving his maturity by successfully navigating a third role, the ironic coupling of competitor and teacher.
The triumvirate of recent additions - Enrique Davis, Brandon Bolden and Devin Thomas – has already begun to impress during the first week of fall camp. Going on athleticism and ability, the freshmen are pushing Eason and fellow Meridian alum Derrick Davis.
While remaining competitive, Eason is glad to have the depth and the talent alongside him in the backfield. The slimmed-down runner is doing what he can to make the adjustment to SEC play more manageable.
"We (he and Davis) embraced them when they came in and told them to relax," Eason said. "We all laugh together and everything, but on the field, I try to teach too. How to read the holes and different things. The coaches like us doing that, and it makes everyone better. Everybody is on the same team, and we act like it."
Teammates have noticed Eason's easy transition into a leadership capacity and aren't surprised that the soft-spoken player has been more than willing to help.
"He is a veteran, even if he hasn't had many game carries," fullback Jason Cook said. "Cordera has a maturity about him, and he is willing to help. But getting that starting spot won't be easy for any of the new guys. He wants it. He'll fight for it."
If anything, the fresh faces have lit even more of a fire under Eason. After struggling with ball security in the spring, Eason buckled down on his fundamentals and put an extra emphasis on eliminating fumbles, knowing that competition would soon arrive to take his carries.
"It was exciting when they showed up, but yeah, you do kind of elevate your game and evaluate yourself a little bit," Eason said. "I have learned things, and it has helped me out. By teaching them, I am becoming a better player.
"I have been working hard on it with different drills. I think it was a mind thing, but I have gotten over that. At practice, I'm making sure to hit the holes with two hands on the ball."
Credit goes to Eason for his willingness to offer a hand after the long wait. Most players would covet the top spot and avoid yielding any advice. Instead, Eason is trying to become the complete player – both with his runs and his relaying of information.
He has been on the other side of the situation. And he understands what can help Enrique Davis and company adapt. But don't be mistaken. Eason hasn't waited this long so that a newbie overcomes him without struggle.
"I feel like I've waited forever. I'm the No. 1 running back right now, but I know anything is possible. Things can change instantly, but I am competing, competing hard. Trying to hold on after waiting so long to get it. I'm enjoying it."
Cordera Eason -
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