Getting under Jake Matthews' skin isn't an easy task.
The former Texas A&M left tackle and soon-to-be first-round NFL draft pick keeps an even keel on the field and frustrates opponents with every tool a pass protector needs: size, athleticism and technique. But on the last night of college football's regular season last year, it was Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy doing the frustrating.
"There was a lot of trash-talking," Ealy said, according to stltoday.com. "Both of us. And that's not like him, so I took him out of his comfort zone."
Ealy's stat line against the Aggies was strong if not spectacular (four tackles, one for loss, and a quarterback hurry), but he played well enough to draw Matthews' praise when asked about his toughest assignment.
"I thought Kony Ealy was really good at Missouri," Matthews said. "Real aggressive. Big and strong. Mixed up his pash-rush moves real well."
Helping Ealy through months of pre-draft preparation has been his cousin, former Missouri defensive tackle and current New York Jet Sheldon Richardson.
"Sheldon's been great," Ealy said. "He's been kind of a big brother, mentor to me, just trying to help me through this process -- not knowing what to expect."
Ealy is ranked as the draft's No. 26 overall prospect by NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah, and he expects to be a first-round pick on the draft's first day, May 8. He could be the second defensive end chosen after South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, but the gap between the two could be 20 picks or more. NFL Media analyst Charles Davis projects Auburn's Dee Ford to follow Clowney at the position, No. 20 overall, with Ealy going No. 24 to the Cincinnati Bengals.
For Ealy, second is no prize.
"I want to prove that I'm one of the best defensive linemen, if not the best defensive lineman in this draft," Ealy said. "I don't want to be second-best, I want to be first."
Ealy was projected as a third- to fourth-round pick had he entered the draft last year as a third-year sophomore. Returning to Mizzou for another season will pay off handsomely. Particularly if he can continue drawing frustration from the most heralded pass blockers he faces.