They used to live around the corner from one another in St. Louis. They go “way, way back.”
Now, more than a decade later, old pals Kony Ealy and Sheldon Richardson are looking to torment opposing Southeastern Conference offenses together.
“In this league, you’ve got to bring you’re A-game every single game,” redshirt sophomore defensive end Ealy said following the team’s Saturday morning’s scrimmage.
Bringing their best daily is something Ealy and Richardson each strived to do this season, a year after questions about their motors arose. Working with the first-team defense, each player made his presence felt at Faurot Field during Missouri’s first scrimmage of fall camp.
Both regularly found themselves in the backfield, with Ealy, a New Madrid native, batting down a pair of passes in addition to recording a sack. Richardson, who graduated from Gateway Tech High School in St. Louis, was credited with three tackles for loss, including stuffing a run in the backfield on a third-and-goal from the one-yard line for the number one offense.
“What you’re seeing out of them is they’re more competitive and more consistently playing at a high level,” defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said. “I’ve been very happy with both of them.”
So, what has been the difference from last year to this year for the two athletic linemen?
“They’ve got one more year underneath their belt in our program where we’re constantly pushing them to get better and be more focused to compete at a high level,” Kuligowski said. “When you do things a thousand times, it’s a lot easier to do it right all the time.”
An example of Richardson taking advantage of his skill-set with a more consistent effort came during Friday’s practice. Six-foot, 250-pound tailback Jared McGriff-Culver bounced a run to the right, outside the numbers. Richardson pursued and sent the bruising back flying to the ground with merely a dipping of his shoulder pads.
Coming out of high school, Richardson was ranked the No. 4 overall player in his class by Rivals.com. However, Richardson was ruled ineligible and spent the next two seasons at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif. The once-dominant prep player made his Tiger debut last season, appearing in all 13 games and making 37 tackles while tallying two sacks.
Coach Gary Pinkel has seen a drastic difference in this year’s Richardson compared to last year’s.
“Sheldon (Richardson) is getting better, better and better,” Pinkel said. “This is the first time he’s had the opportunity, all summer long working out, all camp working out. Last year, he came in and missed all of camp and missed all the conditioning, weight lifting, everything.”
Richardson said being at MU for an entire off-season helped him tremendously.
“It got me adjusted to the speed I needed to get to,” Richardson said. “I’m at the speed I want to be at. The game’s slowed down for me, like it was in high school a little bit. I’m a better player than I was last year.”
Richardson said the same applies to Ealy.
“He’s come a long way,” Richardson said. “He learned the playbook now, he’s on his job now, he’s just got to work on his pursuit a little bit more but he’s doing his thing though.”
Ealy also receives help when he can from former Tiger linemen, particularly Aldon Smith, who recorded 14 sacks last year as a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers.
“At their level they’re always continuously doing stuff but I always call him and ask him ‘Hey, what should I do on this stunt right here or if the guard does this, then what do I do?’ and he always gives me pretty good advice,” Ealy said of the former Tiger standout.
It’s advice that Ealy will be bringing with him to the SEC, where he and Richardson will look to show the country Missouri is up to the task of playing in the nation’s elite football conference.
“Our line is ready for the SEC, I think our whole team is ready for the SEC," Ealy said. "But you got to go out there and play."