116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Kennedy has produced prominent linebackers throughout the last decade.
The role has been filled by all-state defenders like Alex Koch, Drew Bartels, Cade Parker, Johnson Mator and Terrence Hall.
Kennedy senior Ryker Stelling embraces the opportunity to carry on the tradition with the hopes of inspiring future Cougars.
“It feels great,” said Stelling, noting he was friends with Parker and always tried to top his feats. “It creates competition between different generations. I hope there is another linebacker at Kennedy that wants to compete with me and try to one-up me in everything that they do.”
Stelling is the leading tackler in a talented corps of linebackers on a defense that ranks second in Class 5A, allowing just nine points per game prior to Class 5A No. 9-ranked Kennedy’s game Friday night against unbeaten Davenport West at Kingston Stadium.
Stelling has tallied 51.5 tackles, including 40 solo, and is on pace to surpass last year’s team-high 78 tackles and 58 solo stops. He received praise from Kennedy Coach Brian White, a former linebacker himself.
“He plays hard and I can count on him to be where he is supposed to be,” White said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate over the years to have kids like that. He’s right up there with the best of them.”
The All-Mississippi Valley Conference and All-Metro performer mans the middle with teammate Calvin White. He has a nose for the ball, which makes him a reliable and perfect fit in the Cougars defense.
“Number one, he wants to win football games,” White said. “He does everything he can to win football games. He will make whatever plays. He’s an unselfish kid.
“I don’t have to coach him very much, because I count on him. He’s so smart that he knows what to do. He knows when to do it. You kind of take a kid like him for granted because you know he’s going to get the job done. He’s such a luxury to have.”
One of the reasons for his high football IQ and dependable production is Stelling’s studious approach. He dissects video, learning as much as he can about opposing offenses and the Cougars’ schemes as possible. White said that Stelling has identified tendencies in film that coaches didn’t think was noteworthy to mention. His mind is always churning.
“It helps because I’m able to pick up tendencies, knowing what play is going to be ran, where the hole will be opening up for that play and if they are going to pass or run the ball in a situation,” Stelling said. “When it’s in-game, pick up the quarterback cadence keys and that is going to tell me what type of play it is and stuff like that. It makes me quicker to the ball. It will help me tell my teammates what is going on.”
The effort has earned the trust of White, who also serves as defensive coordinator. White has afforded Stelling the ability to audible the initial call. Stelling said he appreciates the freedom and the responsibility to put his teammates in position to succeed.
“That’s how smart he is,” White said. “He studies everything. He’s a real student of the game. It’s an incredible luxury to have as a coach.”
More often than not, Stelling puts himself in the right position. White said Stelling possesses a smaller frame at 6-foot, 200 pounds, but uses his natural ability to beat defenses and get to the ball, comparing him to Mator.
“Ryker is really good at slashing, undercutting blocks and things like that,” White said.
“Johnson Mator was undersized at 5-10 and 190 pounds but he was a tackling machine because he knew how to play the game. Ryker is a little like that. He understands the game and he uses his intelligence and quickness to make plays.”
Stelling has 10.5 tackles for loss, two shy of his total a season ago. He said he has tried to become a more complete player, adopting more of a physical style.
“I focused a lot on trying to get off blocks because that’s what I struggled with last year,” Stelling said. “I engage with the linemen a little bit more. I’m head-on instead of just trying to go around them.”
Stelling is the lone Cougar to lead the team in tackles for multiple games. He was tops in the opener against Iowa City West and notched a game-high 10.5 against Cedar Rapids Washington.
Stelling had a season-best 13, including 11 solo, in last week’s loss to Cedar Falls. He also had 20 yards of offense, stepping in as the regular fullback due to injury.
“I feel like I’ve been able to do more than I was able to do last year,” Stelling said. “I’m flying to the ball quicker and I’m just racking up more tackles than I was at this point in (last) season. I’m just playing as hard as I can on both sides of the ball and just trying to have a good senior season.”