CEDAR FALLS — For Cedar Rapids native Jalen Rima, a deep 27-yard throw from quarterback Eli Dunne into the end zone changed the direction of his collegiate career.
“There were a couple games where I didn’t have any catches, or when I did (catch it), I didn’t really do much,” said Rima, recalling that catch against South Dakota State on Oct. 20. “That kind of sparked it to see what I can do because I was at a lull thinking I couldn’t really do much.”
He still remembers smiling widely and telling his parents after the game, “I think I’m back.”
It was Rima’s first touchdown reception since his freshman season, and now he’s looking to take that momentum into his senior year at Northern Iowa.
“After how last year ended and just becoming a senior, the work we’ve been putting in this summer, yeah, my confidence is pretty high,” Rima said.
Rima had an impressive freshman season, earning a spot on the Missouri Valley Football Conference all-newcomer team after finishing second on the team with 764 all-purpose yards. But before last year’s South Dakota State game, he struggled to replicate his first-year success. He went from 305 receiving yards as a true freshman to 131 yards in his sophomore season.
“I kind of lost my confidence after my sophomore year,” Rima said. “I struggled that whole year.”
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UNI Coach Mark Farley said Rima’s lack of confidence was a matter of him needing to realize it’s OK to make mistakes.
“You’re not going to be perfect,” Farley said. “You’re going to make an error. Get on with it. It’s not the end of the world. ... When he understands that and starts playing like that, that’s when you’re going to see the production.”
Farley also said Rima’s slump might have been because Farley didn’t ask Rima to redshirt his freshman season.
“(It’s probably) my fault as much as anyone else’s fault that maybe he’s not where he belongs,” Farley said. “This is like his junior year (if he redshirted).”
It didn’t take long for Farley to notice a new confidence in Rima.
“It’s everything to him. It’s everything to anybody,” Farley said. “When he is in his game and when he’s confident, I think he’s unstoppable.”
There’s not much time to dwell on the improvement, though. Northern Iowa is going through a four-way quarterback battle with three of the four options in their first year of eligibility. UNI’s first game is about three weeks away against Iowa State, one of the better defenses in the FBS.
True freshman quarterback Nate Martens said having an experienced receiver like Rima has been helpful in his first fall camp.
“He’s somebody to count on. He’s been through it,” Martens said. “He kind of keeps it relaxed and wants you to do your best.”
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Farley said it’s not so much a matter of building chemistry with the one quarterback who becomes the starter as much as being comfortable with all four quarterbacks enough for everyone to improve and want to throw to him.
Rima is confident he can do that.
“I’m comfortable with whoever it is, to be honest,” Rima said. “Whoever it is, whether it’s a freshman or a guy that’s been here a while, it doesn’t really matter. I think it’ll be fine.”
As Rima takes the field at Jack Trice Stadium on Aug. 31, there will be plenty of people rooting for him.
“We all want (success for Rima) so bad for him because he’s such a great person,” Farley said.
Just ask his roommate from the last two years, tight end Briley Moore.
“That’s my brother,” Moore said. “I’m excited to see what he can do. ... He’s a good guy that everybody is rooting for, but everybody also knows that he’s going to help our team this year.”
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