Gazette Male Athlete of the Year 2016: Jalen Rima, Cedar Rapids Prairie

July 3, 2016 | 7:00 am
Cedar Rapids Prairie's Jalen Rima celebrates after winning the 4A boys' 400m relay during the state high school track meet at Drake Stadium in Des Moines on Saturday, May 21, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Chapter 1:

Family matters

CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s possible a Rima could be the voice of the Northern Iowa Panthers for years and years to come.

Football and basketball play-by-play man Gary Rima doesn’t appear to be near retirement. How could he be when he gets to call incredible moments like Paul Jesperson’s half-court winner in the NCAA hoops tournament?

When it is time for him to hang up his microphone and headset, there’s always a chance his grandson could slide right in and take over his duties.

Jalen Rima is going to major in communications at the school. The recent Cedar Rapids Prairie graduate admits there have been times, many times, when he’s alone watching a game on television and goes into full broadcast mode.

You know, stuff like ‘Cam Newton hands off to Jonathan Stewart and runs over the middle for five yards.’

“That could be something,” Jalen said, when the subject of another broadcasting Rima is broached. “Maybe. I don’t know if I could keep the ‘Oh, baby’ going, though.”

Regardless if radio is in his future, family means everything to Jalen Rima. Just listen to him talk about the affection he has for his younger sisters: 13-year-old Bailey and 8-year-old Payton.


Them, mom and dad (Todd and Molly), his grandparents, uncles, aunts, they’ve all helped him get to the point where he earned a scholarship to play wide receiver for the Northern Iowa football team. To the point where he excelled at four sports and has been voted The Gazette’s 2016 Male Athlete of the Year.

“I’ve seen families that don’t really support kids, and I don’t know how those kids do it,” Rima said. “I wouldn’t be able to. The family I have, I’m probably the luckiest kid out there. They support me no matter how far away they live. They watch me. I’ve got family in Montana and Florida, and they text me after games or races, tell me good job. That’s how much everyone cares about me, how much success they really want me to have.” 

Cedar Rapids Prairie's Jalen Rima (15) runs back a punt for a touchdown during the second quarter of their high school football game at John Wall Field at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Chapter 2:

Multi-sport star

He already has had a lot of success. Rima earned 12 varsity letters: four in track and field, three in football and basketball, and two in baseball.


Those numbers might have to be adjusted, too. He chose to skip his senior baseball season to get a head start on classes and training at UNI but was scheduled Friday night to return to the team his father coaches, albeit only as a courtesy runner.

The Hawks are ranked second in Class 4A.

“The thing I like is Jalen has the drive to be the best. He is very motivated,” said Todd Rima. “And I truly believe him being active in four sports throughout his high-school career developed him as an all-around athlete. I know Molly and I have talked about it a lot. Of all of his accomplishments in high school, that is the one we are most proud of. He was in four sports, didn’t specialize.”

“Obviously he is a phenomenal athlete,” said Prairie Activities Director Rocky Bennett. “But, to me, what makes Jalen special, the staple that Jalen represented here, is that it was always team first. His teammates loved him. He was not out for the individual accolades.”


Video: Jalen Rima shares prep sports memories

Though he received a ton of them. Rima was a third-team all-state football receiver in Class 4A this past season, an all-conference baseball player last year, averaged 11 points per game in basketball this past winter and was a six-time state champion sprinter, helping Prairie win this past spring’s 4A team title.

Rima won back-to-back championships in the 200 and 400 meters and was a rare triple winner in the 100, 200 and 400 as a senior. He also anchored Prairie’s victorious 400-meter relay.

“He’s got a big, big gift with his (running) talent,” Prairie track coach Bill Schwarz said. “He came to practice and worked very hard. When it’s time to go, he goes. Winning all three sprint events is a rare feat, and it takes a special kid to be able to do it.”

“I’m just lucky he enjoyed playing basketball,” Prairie hoops coach Jeremy Rickertsen said. “That was the sport he spent the least amount of time in, but still he averaged double figures and was our best defender. I think he has just scratched the surface of his athletic ability. I can’t wait to see what he does now that he is able to concentrate on just one sport.”


Cedar Rapids Prairie's Jalen Rima crosses the line in 1st in the boys' 4x100m relay at the 2016 Drake Relays in Des Moines on Saturday, April 30, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Chapter 3:

The next step

That sport is football, despite Rima getting a Division I baseball offer and overtures from college track and field programs. He said football took over his heart when his family moved from Mason City to Cedar Rapids for his freshman year.

Todd Rima was the head baseball coach at North Iowa Area Community College but left for the same position at Kirkwood.

“Growing up, I just kind of liked whatever. Whatever season it was, that was my favorite, pretty much,” Jalen said. “But once I moved to Cedar Rapids, I kind of fell in love with football. Seeing all the schools, going on visits and seeing all the atmospheres at football games kind of made me settle in with that sport.”


His parents are OK with that choice, definitely OK with his college choice. It seemed inevitable Rima would go to UNI (Todd also is a Panther alum), but there was zero pressure.

This was Jalen’s decision all the way. It was cemented after he attended UNI’s basketball upset of top-ranked North Carolina early last winter.

“He’s got the biggest heart,” said Molly Rima, admitting to a case of separation anxiety from her son. “He doesn’t show that to everybody, but he is so tender hearted. He has always been a tender-hearted, caring, loving, empathetic boy. The thing about his personality, too, is that he has always been fiercely competitive ... Like ‘I’m not going to have anyone tell me no.’ Everything that he did, he wanted to perfect it.”

A Montana native, Molly had Jalen when she was a student at the University of Montana. She’d known Todd for years because he was friends of a cousin of hers in Oelwein, Iowa, whom she’d come to visit occasionally.

The two randomly began communicating again after college graduation, Todd came out to visit her in Montana, she followed him to Mason City when he got the NIACC job, and the rest is history.

“The thing I love and admire about Todd is he did not hesitate to take on a situation where there was a single mom with a little boy whose DNA wasn’t his,” Molly Rima said. “He knew it wasn’t that normal relationship. You know, a guy and a girl, and they’d do all these things together. It was a guy and a girl and a little boy. Jaylen and Todd connected instantly.”

“The way we hit it off right away, I will never forget to this day,” Todd Rima said. “From that first day on, it has just been a special relationship. Jalen is my son, and no one will ever be able to take that away from me or my wife. He’s just a tremendous kid, absolutely the best thing that’s ever happened to me ... Jalen is a Rima. He is no different than Bailey or Payton that way. In my family’s eyes, it’s the same way. We are all just blessed and fortunate to have him be a part of our lives.”

Jalen feels exactly the same way.

“I didn’t really admit it this whole time, only have admitted it to him a couple of times,” he said. “He doesn’t believe it, but I don’t think I’d be at UNI right now if it wasn’t for him. I honestly believe that. The work, the time he took when I was growing up to help me out with everything, that was really big. I didn’t like it when I was growing up, because he was so hard on me. But now, looking back, I know I wouldn’t be here without him. I thank him.”

Todd disagrees with his son.

“It’s all him, it’s not me,” he said. “Jalen deserves every ounce of credit because he is the one who put in all the work. He would have gotten there with or without me.”

Final Voting

NameSchoolFirst-place votesTotal points
Jalen Rima Cedar Rapids Prairie 6 43
Shaun Beyer Cedar Rapids Kennedy 3 35
Carter Happel Lisbon   19
Jordan Bohannon Linn-Mar 1 16
Dalles Jacobus Cedar Rapids Kennedy   13
Others receiving votes: Connor Herrmann (Mount Vernon), Nicholas Holt (Independence), Cooper Koenig (West Branch), Matt Manternach (Monticello), Derek Manternach (Monticello), Mark McGlaughlin (Iowa City West), Isaiah Nimmers (Cedar Rapids Washington), Nate Stenger (Iowa City Regina)
Others nominated: Bryce Charipar (Cedar Rapids Xavier), Cal Clark (Cedar Rapids Prairie), Shea Hartzler (Linn-Mar), Trace Hoffman (Cascade), Tanner Jansen (BGM), Jacob Loehr (Springville), Jacob Manderscheid (Marion), Manny Olutunde (Cedar Rapids Jefferson), Coy Roussel (West Delaware), Conner Shulista (Alburnett), Brandon Stepanek (North Linn), Tysen Van Draska (Cedar Rapids Prairie)