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Thursday, June 14, 2018

2-sporter Ealy off to the races

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Jerrion Ealy (Perfect Game)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It only stands to reason that at some point in his athletic career – only heaven knows exactly when it might happen – Jerrion Ealy will become a one-sport star. Exactly which sport that might be is currently up for debate.

“I honestly hope that time is a long way away,” Ealy said with a laugh, speaking from Tropicana Field on Thursday, the first day of play at the 18th annual Perfect Game National Showcase.

With the understanding that the 17-year-old two-sport standout made that comment in mid-June more than two months before he will start his senior year at Jackson (Miss.) Prep School, a point in time when Ealy’s star could not be burning any brighter, it’s difficult to find fault with his positive outlook.

Those who have watched up close while the 5-foot-10, 192-pound bundle of speed and muscle has risen in the class of 2019 national baseball and football prospect rankings, can’t really imagine a time when Ealy will be an athlete of the one-sport variety.

But on Thursday, that’s exactly what he was. He was here at The Trop as a member of the PG Cardinal team, a group that did its work-out and played an 11-inning game on Thursday and is set to play another game on Friday.

Ealy, who calls Carthage, Miss., home, is an outfielder who Perfect Game ranks as the No. 8 overall national prospect and the No. 1-ranked guy in his home state. He’s simultaneously out-going and humble, a kid driven by the desire to be the best he can be no matter what sort of ball he has in his hand or cradled in his arm. That he belonged at the National Showcase, there was no doubt.

“This is where you come to get better; you come to see where you actually are in your class,” Ealy said. “The pitching I faced today is by far the best pitching I’ve seen my entire life. So, it was a good run today. It could have been better but sometimes you have those days and sometimes you don’t; it is what is.

“But today, to come to the PG National, it’s awesome, man. You just have to come out here and compete and that’s what I look to do.”

Ealy made those comments after a workout session in which he threw 96 mph from the outfield and after he had played in his first showcase game but before the 60-yard dash was run. It was there that he turned in a 6.13-second effort, topping the event record of 6.15-seconds set by Quentin Holmes in 2016. Holmes went on to become a second-round MLB Draft pick.

This is the 27th PG event Ealy has attended in the last two years but only his second showcase; he earned Top Prospect List recognition at last year’s PG Junior National. The rest of those events have been PG WWBA and PG BCS tournaments, and he has been named to the all-tournament team at nine of them, usually playing for Team Georgia. He was the Most Valuable Player at the 2017 16u PG-East Cobb Invitational playing for Team Georgia Baseball Gold.

Ealy has also been part of a PG WWBA championship team, playing for Team Georgia/MBA at the 2017 16u PG World Series.

“Those experiences very much-so prepared me for this day,” he said. “Tomorrow, I just have to come out and compete like I always to, and for the most part whatever happens, happens. As long as I know deep down in my heart that I competed and gave all that I got, that’s all I can be satisfied with.”

While his showcase experiences have been limited, he told PG that he doesn’t change anything with the way he approaches an at-bat. He’ll try to attack the first fastball that he sees and looks to d rive it up the middle or take it to the opposite field. Occasionally he’ll “rile it up” a little bit and try to turn on a pitch but for the most part he looks to go middle-away.

“I really don’t feel any pressure at all,” Ealy said of performing in front of hundreds of scouts at showcase. “The only things you can control are your effort and attitude, and if you do those two things to the best of your ability, then what ever happens, happens. It’s a game. Baseball is meant for failure, so obviously you’re going to fail more than you succeed.

“You’ve just got to stay positive through all the games and have a good attitude. There are a lot of people who want to be in the same position as you are right now so why not have fun with it.”

On the football field, 247 Sports considers Ealy a 4-star prospect, and ranks him as the No. 50 overall prospect in the 2019 class and the No. 3 running back. As a junior at Jackson Prep last fall, he rushed for 1,743 yards and 32 touchdowns and also caught passes that netted 578 yards and eight touchdowns.

This spring, Jackson Prep beat archrival Jackson Academy twice in two days to capture the Mississippi Class AAAA-1 baseball state championship and finish with a 28-9 record. That championship came a little over five months after Ealy had committed to Ole Miss with the plan to play both baseball and football for the Rebels.

“He’s such a special player,” Jackson Prep baseball coach Brent Heavener told the Clarion (Miss.) Ledger the day he committed. “When he’s playing football that’s his passion and he wants to be the best he can be. When it comes to baseball he’s going to do the exact same thing. The second the football season ended he was back in the cages.”

To Ealy’s way of thinking, the two sports are actually a lot alike in a lot of ways. A good football player has to exhibit good footwork and have excellent hand-eye coordination, two traits also necessary to be successful in baseball.

“The two games are kind of the same but they’re played kind of differently,” he said. “One is more of an upbeat, tempo kind of game and one is a laid-back type of game. But for the most part, they’re basically the same. I get the same adrenaline rush from both of them every time.”

Ealy said he talked with Ole Miss head baseball coach Mike Bianco and assistant baseball coach Carl Lafferty along with head football coach Matt Luke about playing both sports in Oxford; everyone was on board.

“They’re happy I’m doing both, as a matter of fact; they want me to do both,” he said. “I’ve talked with Coach Bianco and Coach Lafferty and they said they’d be more than happy to have me on the baseball team and I talked with Coach Luke and he said he’s fine with me playing baseball. … That’s always been a dream of mine to play both in college and for right now I’m sticking with that dream.

After a moment’s thought, Ealy guessed he’s been playing baseball since he was 3 years old, encouraged by members of his family on his mother’s side – “My mom’s side are big baseball people,” he said – and that football came into the picture a little bit later. He remembers going out in the backyard with his dad and throwing footballs around and he said his love for both was nurtured at an early age.

He said his great uncle, Arthur Gardner, has had an impact on his baseball career. Gardner played parts of three seasons in the big leagues (1975, ’77-’78) and then went on to serve as a scout in the MLB Scouting Bureau. “He’s taught me a lot about the game,” Ealy said.

Just one day into the PG National Showcase, Ealy was ready to call it one of the best experiences of his young life so far. He admits that he’s a guy who loves to meet new people, who loves to joke around and have fun. It’s just part of his personality, regardless of what sport he’s playing. He’s going to have fun, win or lose, but he’s also a competitor and he hates to lose.

“The thing I want to take away most from this experience is to just have some fun,” Ealy said. “It’s all a game at the end of the day, and if you go out and pout about it, it ain’t going make the situation any better – just have fun.”

And that goes for both sports Ealy plays, sports he hopes to continue to play for years to come.

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