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UMHB football player dedicates hopeful NFL journey to late mother

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 12:09 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2020 at 1:06 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Before the 2015 Texas A&M Aggie Invitational started, Caleb Eagans knew he’d have to clear a mental hurdle.

His mother, Danna, who was a consistent supporter at all of her son’s sporting events, was notably absent after being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer earlier that month.

“It was my first meet she wasn’t there,” Caleb Eagans said. “Knowing what she was battling and what she’s going through, that rocked me emotionally. It’s almost like you can’t even perform. You can’t even do what you want to do because your mind is elsewhere.”

The then-Texas A&M freshman’s first jump of 5.43 meters would’ve placed him last had it not been for a 5.72-meter attempt following a foul. He did, however, finish last in the 60-meter dash with a time of 7.35 seconds.

The anxiety and uncertainty were not only detriments to Eagans’ athletic performance, but to his academics.

“I was struggling grade-wise because I knew what she was going through,” Caleb said. “It’s hard studying for an exam when the doctor tells you your mom only has two years to live.”

A BAD STATE

On September 16, 2015, Caleb Eagans was just beginning his second semester in College Station when he received a call from his father, Rayford.

Danna had passed away after a seven-month battle with cancer.

“It was tough because my dad was going through it, too,” Caleb said. "My dad and my mom were very close. I’ve never seen a relationship like that. I was fortunate to see what a husband and wife should be like. I lost my mom, but he lost his wife. His best friend.

“He was there for my mom through the whole thing. That was cool to see. My dad was doing shift work at the time at a coal plant. He was always making sure she was there at her appointments. He was there 100%.”

Caleb eventually returned to school, but had a long way to go to get back in shape.

“I got really skinny,” Eagans said. “I wasn’t working out, I was depressed and I was in a bad state.”

He turned to powerlifting, citing an extreme loss of strength and a friend introducing him to the sport.

“I did it for football but I’m competitive so I qualified for a national collegiate meet in San Antonio. Within three lifts, I was right around 1,200 pounds in a combination of squat, deadlift and bench. That was something, even qualifying that gave me confidence or the edge to push for football more.”

GRADUATING TO A SETBACK

Eagans, whose GPA fell to near 2.0 at one point, managed to graduate with honors on time with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health and Kinesiology with a minor in Business Administration. Following his time at Texas A&M, he wanted to begin his football comeback at East Central University in Oklahoma and played a few games during the 2018 season.

Scouts from the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants checked him out the following spring camp, rejuvenating Eagans' belief that he could play in the NFL.

But a torn groin at the end of fall camp ended his 2019 season before it began. He had surgery in December, and after a few months of rehabilitation, Eagans said he actually felt better than ever before.

MASTERING A COMEBACK

After obtaining a Master’s Degree in Sport Administration at East Central, Eagans transferred to Division III powerhouse Mary Hardin-Baylor, which is about an hour and a half west of his hometown of Jewett, Texas. Head coach Pete Fredenburg and wide receivers coach Steven Thrash are bringing in a humble, yet confident leader onto the team.

“I told coach Fred that if I come, we’re winning a national championship,” Eagans said. “That’s something I promised him. December was supposed to be my last month, but now I’m going to be in school longer. That’s a lot more time and money.”

The 2014 Leon High School graduate is now eyeing a second Master’s Degree along with an eventual spot in the 2022 NFL Draft. His plans are to play the regular spring season with UMHB and then returning for a full fall season to complete his eligibility.

Eagans, who ran a 4.28 40-yard dash in May, is projected to be a late-round NFL Draft selection, and is gaining comparisons to Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson and Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

“Everything that’s happened at this point, it’s just going to be motivation to push through life,” Eagans said. "Everything I do is dedicated to my mom. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.

“Seeing my mom struggle and watching how positive she was through that, there’s nothing that would ever come in my way that’ll be worse than what I’ve already been through. Whatever I do from here on out, it’s going to be a lot of positives behind it and dedication to her. God willing I make it to the NFL, there’s a lot of stuff I want to do, not just for my community, but other people as well.”

Copyright 2020 KWTX. All rights reserved.

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