Eastman, Hyland live the dream

Posted April 29, 2010, at 10:41 p.m.

One of the great things about sports is it provides athletes a way to live out their dreams.

Much as the next great American novel elevates the author from struggling waiter writing on the side to celebrity status, sports provides similar opportunities for those with the creativity and inner drive to see the possibilities.

Of course, even the dream is relative, particularly in the sports arena. For some, it’s beating the Soviets in Lake Placid. For others, it’s simply making the cut.

Tyler Eastman and Keegan Hyland reside somewhere in between those extremes.

Eastman, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound Old Town native, began his pursuit of a pro football career Thursday when the former University of Maine lineman began a rookie minicamp with the Kansas City Chiefs.

But his path to this point began with the ultimate modesty.

Eastman’s high school career was played for a team struggling for mere survival — Old Town endured a 19-game losing streak during his days with the former Indians.

Yet he displayed his athletic potential through the tough times as well as in other ways — as one of the state’s top shot putters, and by attending football camps.

Eastman ultimately made his way to the nearby University of Maine, where he made 24 straight starts at left tackle for a program known for developing diamonds in the rough capable of playing in the pros.

And while he didn’t hear his name called during last week’s NFL draft, he soon got the free-agent contract that extends his chance to live out his dream.

Hyland also has lofty personal goals, especially for someone who comes from a state where basketball is king, but the talent pool is small.

So the 6-4 guard from South Portland put in the work, and became well-known in his hometown for shooting hundreds of shots a day.

It was a reputation as a prolific scorer that spread through the high school and AAU ranks, and soon attracted the attention of college coaches from beyond the reach of most Maine schoolboy players.

But while many mid-level programs sought Hyland’s skill set for their basketball teams, Hyland wanted more.

Enter some divine intervention, perhaps.

Hyland suffered a fractured pelvis last summer, an injury that forced him to miss nearly his entire senior season.

Some of the scholarship offers vanished, and he began to think prep school might be the best way to re-establish his college credentials.

But proof that good shooters are hard to find was forthcoming, as the aftermath of the NCAA’s early signing period for scholarship basketball players in November produced a new wave of interest in Hyland.

And the schools then contacting him were better than ever, representing some of the top conferences in the land.

Earlier this week Hyland opted for Gonzaga, perhaps fitting because the Bulldogs have surmounted the same odds on a team level that he hopes to overcome in an individual sense.

Gonzaga long was considered a “mid-major” — a second-tier designation for Division I programs that don’t play in an elite conference.

And while the Bulldogs still compete in the mid-major West Coast Conference, they have achieved “high major” status because of their head-to-head success against the big boys.

At Gonzaga, Hyland has the chance to join a short list of Mainers who have become contributing members of that high-major world.

And that’s all any kid can ask for, the chance to live the dream.

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