MISSOULA — The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Joey McElroy hasn't always commanded an intimidating presence.
When he first started playing basketball, McElroy ran point guard. And then he grew.
In sixth grade, McElroy said he was around 5-foot-6. A year later? He's 5-foot-10. By the time he was an eighth grader, McElroy hit — and then surpassed — the 6-foot benchmark.
Loyola Sacred Heart's "Big Joe" isn't done growing either. McElroy said his doctors told him that he could reach 6-foot-8 in the years to come.
"My growth plates are still wide open," McElroy said.
Even with the potential for more growth, his coach Eddie Stack says McElroy is easily one of the biggest basketball players on the floor in Class B.
McElroy's post presence has helped the Rams cruise into the final legs of the regular season atop the Western 6-B conference.
"You absolutely have to account for him any time he's near the basket," Stack said of McElroy. "He can catch and score or get a rebound. You can't hop off him a lot and that's really opened up stuff for other kids. The more he does, it seems, the more energy our team gets going as well. He's invaluable out there right now."
That's apparent in practice too.
During a full-court press drill, McElroy beelined a gnarly guard-like chest pass to David Koppang, who laid it in for an easy finger-roll bucket.
"He's crazy good at basketball," Koppang said. "It's good to have him because he brings emotion into basketball. ... He's really good at showing emotion on the court."
And basketball isn't even McElroy's premier sport.
McElroy is a four-time all-stater for Class B in football.
The burly lineman earned first-team accolades on both sides of the ball as a junior and repeated that first-team performance as a senior on the offensive line. He made the second-team as a defensive lineman this season too.
Regardless of classification, McElroy's been heralded among the best recruits in Montana this year as a lineman and committed to Montana State nearly a year ago. But he's planning on lining up somewhere completely different come fall — tight end.
"In Class B, you can't really have a kid that big and not put him on the line," Koppang, a University of Montana recruit, said. "But in practice we'd have some fun. Joey would play tight end and just maul over some kids. He has great hands and he's fast for how big he is."
McElroy said he never lined up as a tight end in high school, but he has some 7-on-7 experience in the spot. Montana State's coaching staff told him halfway through Loyola's football season that they wanted to try him out at tight end.
He's excited for the challenge.
"It's something new," McElroy said. "When I played catch in the backyard (as a kid), I always faked like I was a wide receiver, but now I actually have the chance to go out, run some routes and catch some balls."
McElroy — a four-sport athlete for Loyola — credits basketball and tennis as helpful training tools to get him ready to shift down the line of scrimmage.
"I feel like it gets you quicker because you're going back and forth," McElroy said. "It gets you in better shape too."
Stack sees it, too.
"I really do think that has helped him from football to basketball to track to tennis at just developing that athleticism where you do see a kid now who really is competitive in all of those sports," Stack said. "He's a pretty dynamic athlete in lots of different ways."
McElroy was the first member of Montana State's 2018 class when he committed back in early April of last year.
Even though he grew up in Mount Sentinel's shadow, McElroy's always been a Bobcat fan and his lifelong dream was to play for Montana State.
"Just getting the opportunity to play for one of my favorite teams since I was a little kid, I was so excited when I got the offer to play there," McElroy said. "I was so happy. I've always been a fan of the Cats, even living in 'enemy territory,' they say. I'm blessed with the opportunity to play there."
McElroy's ties to Bozeman are longstanding.
Plenty of his family members attended school there, including one of his grandfathers who played baseball there.
"It's always been in my blood," McElroy said. "... I also chose that program because I feel like they're on the rise to do something great."
But for now, McElroy's relishing the time he has left as a Ram.
Loyola has just a handful of games before divisionals and after that, he has just track and tennis left in the spring before graduation.
"High school, it's a once in a lifetime experience," McElroy said. "You don't get to see it ever again. I'm just enjoying time with my friends, all my teammates, everyone. ... It's our last one. It's crazy how fast high school goes by."