Profile: Eaton has big dreams at a small school

Photo by Albert J. Marro Proctor's boy's basketball Coach Jake Eaton explains what he would like to see during a cutting drill at opening day of practice in the 2016 season.

Jake Eaton had a glamorous career as a quarterback at the University of Maine. He was on teams that pulled off stunning playoff victories over McNeese State and Appalachian State on the road. He was honored with All-New England status twice and had a career from 1999 to 2002 that landed him in Maine’s Athletic Hall of Fame. He will quickly tell you a major reason for the success was that when he went north to Orono, he took a whole lot of Rutland with him. He said putting on the Rutland uniform and playing football for Mike Norman, basketball for Dave Kinsman and baseball for Kevin Bellomo was what prepared him for the rigors of Division I-AA (now FCS) football. “Playing sports at Rutland when I was there was blue collar,” Eaton said. “Norman, Kinsman and Bellomo held you accountable on a daily basis. “It was all about outworking people and not just at practice, but away from practice — in the weight room, in the batting cage ... ” His biggest regret was not playing his senior year of baseball for Bellomo. He gave up baseball that spring to put in work to get ready for college football. He said he could have prepared just as well during the summer. “It’s the thing I regret most,” he said. When he got to Maine, he was more than ready, something he attributes to those Rutland coaches. “I felt more prepared than any of the guys I was going against,” Eaton said of his first preseason football camp with the Black Bears. “I was more ready mentally and physically. I was more ready for the two to three hours a day of film study and for any adversity.” His choice of Maine was also influenced by a Rutland connection. He was considering Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. All offered scholarships. Former Rutland High football and track and field standout Kevin Bourgoin was a receivers coach at the time on the Maine staff and Eaton said that was a factor. “It came down to Maine and UNH,” Eaton said. “UNH was going through a coaching change and was running the ball about 50 times a game with Jerry Azuma. Maine had a new stadium and the offense was a little more innovative.” There was also the fact that Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove had been a college quarterback, as had offensive coordinator Bobby Wilder. Following his career at Maine — three years as the starter — he played for coach Jay Gruden in the Arena Football League with the Orlando Predators. He had just won the job as the starter when he went down with his second ACL injury. It was time to get on with life without football. It’s been a good life. He landed a job as a health and physical education teacher at Proctor Elementary School and added a couple of other hats to his full-time position — Proctor High School athletic director and boys varsity basketball coach. And the success came just as it did in Maine. His Proctor Phantoms won three straight Division IV boys basketball state championships from 2015 through 2017. Having been a player for Division I Rutland, he wasn’t sure what to expect coaching at a school in the state’s smallest division. “There are obvious differences like depth, size of the kids, and quantity of the kids,” Eaton said. “What I really like about Proctor is the high expectations they have here,” Eaton said. “This town and this school are about hanging banners. We’ve been so spoiled. From 2011 through 2017 we’ve won 16 state titles and those are just in the three team sports. And we’ve been runner-up six times during that time. “I love how much tradition, pride and history there is in Proctor. The kids are aware of it. The alumni come back and tell stories.” Soccer is the school's flagship sport with 19 state crowns in boys soccer. Eaton, the high school and college football player, has come to appreciate the game. “I appreciate the love and passion that Proctor has for soccer,” Eaton said. But it is basketball that Eaton coaches and he believes those teams that won the three consecutive state crowns were unusual by Division IV standards. “We would have held our own in Division II or III,” Eaton said. “We played teams in those divisions like MSJ, Otter Valley and Woodstock and we hung tough with them. “Players like Nick Ojala, Logan Landon, Curtis Tomlinson and Nick Swane were once-in-a-decade (Division IV) players.” The athletic directorship pays a stipend on top of his teaching salary and Eaton said he doesn’t believe people know what the AD job entails. “I don’t know if people realize how much work there is to being an AD on a daily basis,” Eaton said. There was a time Eaton thought about the NFL. Things were going well in the AFL and he was making a good living. “That was the heyday of Arena football. You were working six months a year and quarterbacks were making from $60,000 to $250,000,” Eaton said. His Maine roommate Stephen Cooper put together an outstanding 10-year career as a linebacker in the NFL. But injuries happen and so does life. Eaton couldn’t be happier about where he landed as he enters his ninth year as a teacher, eighth as athletic director and sixth as varsity basketball coach. “I feel very blessed to get this job when I did,” he said. “It’s just been the perfect fit for me.” Follow Tom on Twitter @RHSportsGuy

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