Jace Easley got word of recognition he received on the football field over the weekend as he was preparing for a basketball game and later that day, he announced his plans to play college soccer.
What else to expect from the ultra-versatile Ozark senior?
Easley has been named to the All-COC First Team as a defensive back and what’s more, he is a unanimous first-teamer.
“The unanimous selection, I don't know what to say other than I'm flattered. I wasn't expecting it, honestly,” Easley said. “I was expecting some sort of an all-conference award, but wasn't expecting to be that high because there are some very good players around and I didn't play some of the season at defensive back. I’m very excited, it’s an honor.”
Easley is Ozark’s lone first-teamer. Nixa’s first-teamers include defensive end John Gholson, wide receiver Kael Combs, offensive lineman Thomas Schulte and outside linebacker Ty Hartman. Combs is also a unanimous selection.
As Easley mentioned, he did not start the season at defensive back. As Ozark’s starting quarterback entering the season, the Tigers didn’t want to risk him being injured on the defensive side of the ball. By Week Three, he was seeing time at running back and cornerback and by Week Four that’s where he was put, to go along with spot duty at wide receiver and his regular jobs as a place-kicker, punt returner and kick returner.
Easley’s stats line includes 10-of-20 passing for 272 yards, 62 rushes for 313 yards, 19 receptions for 386 yards, 26.5 tackles and three interceptions.
“This football season was like a roller coaster for me,” Easley said. “I was doing different things every single week. I'd go into the next week and not know what position I would be playing for that game. I was all over the place and it was a lot of fun.
“If I could go back, there would be a few minor things I would do differently,” he added. “But you can't take it back. I was proud of myself.”
Easley briefly played both football and soccer at the start of his junior year, before grudgingly giving up soccer. He’s continued to play club soccer and will continue his soccer career at Drury. A projected left-back, he’s anxious to tap further into his potential after he completes his senior season playing basketball.
“Club season for soccer is starting, so we are having practices twice a week now and we will have our spring season and summer to play,” Easley said. “I’ve never been focused solely on soccer. I'm looking forward to sticking with one sport and seeing what I can do with it.”
Gholson is a repeat first-teamer. He played all along the defensive line as a senior, while seeing the most time at end. He was fourth among the Eagles with 94 tackles that included four tackles for a loss and two quarterback sacks.
Hartman’s first year as a starting linebacker saw him collect 99 tackles, three TFLs, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks.
Combs’ first season on the gridiron at the high school level saw him set school records with 44 receptions for 842 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Combs, who was also an All-COC First-Team selection in basketball as a sophomore last winter, has been a college prospect on the hardwood since he was a freshman. But he is open-minded about playing football in college.
“My family has talked about me getting looks and if I wanted to play football in college,” Combs said. “But it’s not something we have totally talked about, yet.”
Schulte anchored an offensive line that allowed Nixa to put up record-setting passing numbers and have five running backs rush for 200 yards or more.
Carthage running back Luke Gall is the Offensive Player of The Year. Gall, who doubles as a linebacker, and Carthage defensive end Micah Lindsey, are co-Defensive Players of The Year.
Nixa’s second-team selections are inside linebacker Jaden Aven, quarterback Connor Knatcal, defensive back Cody Breeden and kicker Kaleb James.
Aven was arguably Nixa’s MVP. He had a team-high 139 tackles, with four TFLs and three sacks. He filled in at running back and rushed for 297 yards, as well as throwing the game-winning touchdown pass in the Backyard Brawl.
Breeden was second among the Eagles with 100 tackles and had three picks.
Knatcal shattered numerous school records while competing 121-of-220 passes for 1,810 yards and 24 touchdowns.
James made both of his field-goal attempts and converted on 46-of-49 extra-point tries.
Ozark’s second-team selections are offensive lineman Brian Bullard and defensive lineman Luke Hulse.
Hulse, a senior noseguard, had 28 tackles, including two sacks and two TFLs.
Third-team honors for Ozark went to defensive back Garrett Ballard, running back Jake Beets and wideout Jace Whatley.
Ballard led the Tigers with 81.5 tackles and five interceptions, Beets topped Ozark with 603 yards rushing and Whatley had a team-high 21 catches for 458 yards.
Nixa’s third-teams are offensive lineman Garrett Davidson, defensive lineman Avry Rutherford and running back Spencer Ward.
Rutherford led the Eagles with six TFLs and had 64 tackles and Ward had a team-high 651 yards rushing.
Linemen — Garrett Lilinkamp, Carthage; Dontrell Holt, Joplin; Brady Belcher, Webb City; Thomas Schulte, Nixa; Trysten Hart, Republic
Running backs — Luke Gall, Carthage; Cade Wilson, Webb City; Connor Sandridge, Republic
Wide receivers — Kael Combs, Nixa; Hudson Moore, Carthage; Terrance Gibson, Joplin
Tight end — Tyler Willis, Carthage
Quarterback — Always Wright, Joplin
Athlete — Caden Kabance, Carthage
Kicker — Joseph Ipsen, Joplin
Player of Year — Luke Gall, Carthage
Linemen — Micah Lindsey, Carthage; Donovahn Watkins, Joplin; John Gholson, Nixa; Max Williams, Carthage
Inside linebackers — Luke Gall, Carthage; Cooper Crouch, Webb City, Draven VanGilder, Joplin
Outside linebackers — Zach Lansford, Carthage; Ty Hartman, Nixa
Defensive backs — Davion King, Carthage; Jace Easley, Ozark’ Chase Buford, Republic; Evan Overstreet, Joplin
Punter — Kyler Perry, Carl Junction
Returner — Dante Washington, Wabb City
Players of Year — Micah Linsey, Carthage; Luke Gall, Carthage