To some people, Kony Ealy was lucky enough to win the genetic lottery.
His sheer size and strength for a high school student rivals collegiate players as his 6-5, 230-pound frame towers among the rest. It's a big reason for his success at New Madrid County Central High School.
But, it's not the only reason.
One of Southeast Missouri's most exciting athletes has intrigued fans of football and basketball since his sophomore year at NMCC simply because of the massive potential he possesses.
"Can this guy go grab a tennis racket and go play tennis? Sure," NMCC head football coach Arlen Pixley said. "Could he go play volleyball? Yeah.
"Whenever I think of an athlete, I look around the area and I can't think of anybody that even comes close. I don't think they could have done what he has done -- I don't think they would have done what he's done."
Kony Ealy is the definition of an athlete. He has always had the physical tools to pursue any athletic route he pleased. And during his senior year, he has obtained a ferocious mental drive that will in no doubt make him a force to be reckoned with at the collegiate level.
Which is why he is the Standard Democrat Male Athlete of the Year.
"He didn't have that confidence he had during his senior year," NMCC Athletic Director Diane Fowler said. "He had the great physical attributes but didn't know what to do with it. Through a well-organized football program that made him strive for the very best and his growing determination, he finally saw what he was capable of."
Ealy is the youngest of 11 children. His father, Willie Ealy, stands at 6-foot, 2-inches tall while his mother, Nettie Jones, is 5-foot, 11-inches. With five brothers and six sisters, most of which standing above 6-foot, to contend with growing up, Ealy said that's where his competitive nature began.
"To be honest, I wasn't always the biggest," said Ealy. "But, I've always tried to out-do the best. I always played against my older brothers and cousins, and when I played AAU I played up against older competition.
"I've got a pretty big family and that's what kind of helped me into what I am now."
"You don't see too many kids built like that," NMCC head basketball coach Travis Day said. "He came from a good size family with great genetics."
Throughout his high school career, Ealy has always been noticed, because of his size or talent, on both the basketball court or on the football field. His first organized season on the gridiron was his sophomore year at NMCC. By the time he had reached his senior season, he had been receiving numerous off-season awards as well as offers from various colleges about his future in football.
On Feb. 3, Ealy signed his letter of intent to play football with the University of Missouri following a senior campaign that consisted of 104 total tackles, 28 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks. He was also a finalist for the Missouri defensive player of the year and has been a first team All-State selection the past three years.
"My signing, for me and my father and the rest of my family, was one of the proudest days of my life," said Ealy. "It was a huge lift off of my shoulders. Mizzou has been in my corner from day one and I wanted to stick with them."
Ealy has been a do-it-all player for the Eagles. He's played offense, defense and special teams and has been a focal point for most opposing teams the Eagles faced. The hustle and bustle of playing more than one role took away from his one true position at defensive end. And even with the distraction, Ealy still flourished at the position.
"The thing with him, it's the technical side of it that he'll learn by specifically being involved in one position," said Pixley. "Here, he was moved around everywhere. Now that he can focus on being specifically a defensive end, his upside is tremendous.
"Kony's a different type of defensive end," Pixley added. "He's that type of kid that in a 3-4 scheme gives you that flexibility where you can rush the passer, blitz off the edge or standup and drop into coverage.
"He's done that with us for three years straight."
Although Ealy has seen much personal success of his own, he isn't lost on the fact that it took others to help get him to this place in his life.
"My teammates, if it wasn't for them, I probably wouldn't be here right now," said Ealy. "I give credit to Dontre Jenkins, G'Darius Stevenson and Rodney Anderson. Those are just some of the few that helped get me here. It wouldn't be possible without them.
"The administration, my athletic director, coaches, teammates, fans, everybody, it wouldn't be possible if I didn't have them behind me."
In return, Ealy did everything he could to give back to those who had helped him. He diligently put in the time in the classroom to enable his chances at a college scholarship.
"Taking the harder classes and doing things that he probably didn't want to do was tough for him," Fowler said. "A lot of kids wouldn't have went that extra mile like he did. I was extremely proud of him for handling that responsibility. He rose to the occasion and has got a great opportunity ahead of him.
"He did a lot of things that I was really proud of this year. His effort this year was tremendous."
On top of his football success, Ealy has been just as impressive on the hardwood. As an all-district, all-conference and all-state award winner throughout the last three years, Ealy was the beginning of what most people garner as the most physical basketball team in Southeast Missouri.
"It all started with him," Day said. "He's been the anchor in the paint which allowed us to guard the perimeter with full-court, in-your-face pressure. If you happened to beat our guards, you had 230 pounds in the paint to contend with next."
His senior season consisted of 16.7 points per game as well as just under 10 rebounds a game.
"The thing that makes me laugh is that the one thing that everybody always says about New Madrid basketball is that we're the most physical team they ever played against," Ealy said. "I think we did a good job this year."
After the Eagles' basketball season was cut short in the district tournament after a loss the the Charleston Bluejays in the semifinals, Ealy continued to stay active. He ran track for the first time making him a rare, three-sport athlete.
"He's been blessed with athleticism," Day said. "I don't think there's too many sports he probably couldn't play. It's something that comes natural to him."
Following his high school graduation, Ealy didn't waste any time getting on campus at Mizzou. Ealy received his diploma on Tuesday, left for campus on Thursday and was in the Tiger's weight room that following Friday.
He knows this is his shot. It's what he has worked towards on the field and in the classroom. Ealy isn't going to let that massive potential go to the wayside. It's something he's had to deal with for the majority of his life, the good and the bad of living up to his potential.
"There's always pressure on him," said Day. "It's a no-win situation for him because 'he's supposed to do that'. Us coaches knew that he always preformed like we wanted him to.
"He's the type of kid that whatever you ask him to do, he's going to try and do it his best."
"He's got a little bit more than just (potential)," Pixley said. "He's tapped into it in the last couple of years."
Ealy doesn't mind the message board fodder and the gossip that has followed him. He's heard it all before. It's just one of the many things that drives him to be the very best.
"I take that as gratitude," Ealy said. "I like it when people say things that like because that encourages me even more to do work in the weight room and the classroom. I take it and build off of it."
The opportunity Ealy has with the Missouri Tigers in the next four years is a once in a lifetime one. He finally has the chance to concentrate on one sport, one position and one goal. With his new-found confidence and the genes of the Ealy family behind him, there's no telling where Ealy may wind up.
"He's got a great future ahead of him," Pixley said. "He's got the height, the weight and all of the physical tools. He brings a good mental game with it as well."
"If he continues to improve the way he has the past few years, I don't think there is any stopping him," said Fowler.
"His upside is tremendous," said Day. "Now, he can concentrate on one sport and really learn just one sport. He's never had a chance to learn just one thing. He's got one spot and one goal now.
"The sky is the limit for him."
School: New Madrid County Central
Sports: Football, Basketball, Track and Field
Honors: Two-time, first-team All-State selection and finalist for the Missouri defensive player of the year as a senior. Labeled a four-star recruit, Ealy was ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 3 player in the state of Missouri and the No. 11 weakside defensive end prospect in nation. In basketball, Ealy was also an all-state player as a senior.
Future: Received a scholarship to play football at the University of Missouri-Columbia.