Photo by Jeff Parks
Jackson Prep football coach Ricky Black, the second winningest high school coach in Mississippi history, predicted his former star player, Jerrion Ealy, would make an impact during his freshman season at Ole Miss.
It took Ealy only three games to prove Black right.
Ealy set an Ole Miss freshman record with 273 all-purpose yards Saturday afternoon in a 40-29 victory over Southeastern Louisiana. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound running back returned six kickoffs for 172 yards, including a 94-yarder for a touchdown, had nine carries for 95 yards, including a 30-yarder for a score, and caught one passfor six yards. He broke Dexter McCluster’s freshman record of 268yards, set in 2006 vs. Memphis. Ealy’s 273 all-purpose yards ranks fourth in school history behind McCluster (324 vs. Tennessee in 2009), Deuce McAllister (317 vs. Arkansas in 1999) and John Avery (292 vs. Alabama in 1997). All three of those guys played in the NFL. Ealy’s 172 yards in kickoff returns ranks second behind Michael Wallace (202 vs. Vanderbilt in 2008). And Wallace played in the NFL too.
“Jerrion is in a group with some of the best players I’ve ever coached,” said Black, who has been coaching for 49 years. “There’s no doubt that he was going to make an impact at Ole Miss. Jerrion is a special player. He’s the complete package.”
Ealy was rated the No. 3 high school running back in the country last year by ESPN and 247 Sports and was the co-MVP in the Under Armour All-American Game after rushing for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Ealy – who gained more than 5,000 yards and scored 84 touchdowns and led Prep to four straight state titles — wasso well thought of that both Alabama coach Nick Saban and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney visited Ealy at Prep this spring. But he decided to play at Ole Miss.
Ealy’s special talents starting paying off for the Rebels Saturday.
“I thought Jerrion ended up being the difference in the game with the kickoff return,” Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke said. “He’s a dynamic playmaker and I believe he’ll continue to get better.”
“Jerrion has made a huge jump since fall camp started,” Ole Miss running backs coach Derrick Nix said. “He has adjusted to the speed and physicality of the game. He will continue to grow each week and he’s getting more and more comfortable. Jerrion is not in there thinking about what the plays are out there, now he knows what’s going on and he can look at the defenses and see what the adjustments are.”
Said Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral: “That kid can run and catch. He can do it all for sure. That was expected.”
Ealy was expected to make an impact this season for the Rebels, but hadn’t done much in the first two games against Memphis and Arkansas. He had eight runs for nine yards, caught three passes for 35 yards and returned two kickoffs for 50 yards. That all changed against Southeastern Louisiana. Southeastern had scored to cut the Ole Miss lead to 6-3 in the first quarter when Ealy took the kickoff on the right side of the field, cut left and then turned it on, racing untouched to the end zone. In the second quarter, Ealy returned a kickoff 18 yards, then ran down the sidelines for a 52-yard gain and followed it with a 30-yard up the middle when he turned on the speed to avoid defenders trying to tackle him for his first rushing TD of his college career to give Ole Miss a 20-10 lead.
“I was new in the first game and I had to get used it being more physical and faster than high school,” Ealy said. “In the second game, it slowed down a bit and I got more used to it. In the third game, everything started clicking. I hope to carry it into next week.”
Ealy is much more than just a rising star in football. He was rated as one of the top high school outfielders in the country and expected to be a first round pick in the Major League Baseball draft this summer. Ealy signed with Ole Miss in football this spring and that might scared away some of the major league teams. He was selectedby the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 31st round. Ealy is now concentrating on playing baseball next spring for Ole Miss. He also has visions of playing both sports for a while.
“I want to be like Bo Jackson and play both sports as long as I can,” Ealy said. “The best things in life can be the most difficult. I realize playing both sports will be tough, but I want experience both of them in college. There is an elite fraternity of guys who have played both and I want to be a part of that.”