CEDAR FALLS — He has loved covering a lot of Northern Iowa Panthers players over the years. But there’s one who has captured Gary Rima’s heart the most.
It’s his favorite guy of all time, without question. Not even close.
He’s a member of this year’s football team, wears number 87 and appears to be in line to play as a true freshman. It’s his grandson, Jalen.
“I have to admit, I’ve thought about him making a great catch or scoring a touchdown,” Gary Rima said. “I hope I handle it like I’d handle it for any other player because that’s part of it. There may be a couple of other little things that come out. For me, it’s just so fun to know that I’m going to see all of his college games. If he had gone somewhere else, to another college, I might see one game a year. On our bye week, maybe go get to see him ... I’m looking forward to it.”
Jalen Rima has impressed enough in fall camp to be given strong consideration for snaps at wide receiver. UNI has a need for a third receiver to go with Daurice Fountain and Charles Brown, last season’s top two pass catchers.
Coach Mark Farley said fellow freshmen Christian Jegen and Isaiah Weston also are “in the conversation” for playing time.
Rima is a multiple state track champion from Cedar Rapids Prairie who skipped the majority of his senior season in baseball to take summer classes at UNI and prepare for football. He rejoined the baseball team — coached by his father, Todd — late in the season, and the Hawks won the Class 4A state championship.
Northern Iowa’s season opener is Saturday night at 7 against the Iowa State Cyclones. The game is at ISU’s Jack Trice Stadium and will be televised by Cyclones.TV.
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“It’s crazy,” Jalen Rima said. “Me and my buddies have been talking about it. You go from playing in front of little audiences in high school to being a freshman and going in to play in front of 65,000 people. I think I’m prepared for it.”
Rima said he has pretty much been told his red-shirt will come off, though Farley said that has yet to be determined. The coach said Monday as many as nine to 10 true freshmen could play for the Panthers, as many five could start.
Whether one of those is Rima was to be determined in this week’s practices.
“They asked me to come up in the summer, and I worked my hardest,” Rima said. “I think that helped show me I could be part of the offense right away.”
“Jalen’s got great speed, Jalen is very smooth,” Farley said. “He is one of those players who doesn’t appear to be going as fast as he is, but he seems to run away from people, at least our kids. He is very smooth, has great hands, a very calm demeanor. We’ll see what he’s like when we get into a bigger atmosphere, to see what he shows there. We’re learning about Jalen every day.”
And Gary Rima is going to learn what it’s like to broadcast his grandson’s games. He has some prior experience from his days broadcasting games his sons played at Oelwein High School.
But he admits this is a whole different deal.
“This is kind of to another level: the Division I college level and a grandson,” Gary Rima said. “I’m hoping I do justice. I think it will be good, think it will be fun.
“To think of all the guys I’ve called touchdowns (for), or great catches or dropped an ‘Oh, baby’ because of a play they made, for a grandson to maybe do that, too, it’ll be special. There’s no doubt.”
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