Rico DeLeon has been an influential player for the Chi-Hi football program both on and off the field.
And the all-state defensive lineman is taking his considerable talents to the college level, signing to play football on Wednesday for Iowa Western Community College.
The dynamic DeLeon had 102 tackles including 32 for loss last season for the Cardinals while tallying four-and-a-half sacks.
“It’s a lot of relief being able to know where you’re going to go and going on to the next level,” DeLeon said. “It’s a lot of stress picking schools. I had a lot of options and I just wanted to find the right option for me. Knowing where you’re going is really nice and relaxing.”
Iowa Western Community College is located in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and is a part of the National Junior College Athletic Association. The Reivers are one of the premier NJCAA football programs in the country, finishing last season ranked third in the United States after posting a 10-1 overall record.
DeLeon had interest from schools of all sizes, but felt IWCC gave him what he needed on his first step into the college game.
“I had a lot of good schools that wanted me – Division 1 and Division 2. But I felt Iowa Western could provide an opportunity for me to get to a dream school,” DeLeon said.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound DeLeon put together a dominant senior campaign for the Cardinals, earning Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-State first team accolades. He was also the 2018 Chippewa County Football Player of the Year as well as a Big Rivers Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
“It was just a pleasure to have him around, have him part of the team and to be a team leader,” Chi-Hi coach Chuck Raykovich said. “He showed a lot of young kids a lot of positive things and showed some guidance to those younger kids.”
Prior to signing on Wednesday, DeLeon spoke to those in attendance and said he was proud of his time as a player for the Cardinals but was even more proud of the community service projects he and his teammates put together throughout the season.
“He obviously is one of the best we’ve had at that position. His character is impeccable,” Raykovich said of DeLeon. “The thing I like is at our awards banquet he wanted to talk (and when he spoke he said) I want you to know I did this the right way. He’s not a party kid. He sticks to the rules, he sticks to the guidelines we’ve set up and he adheres to them and look what happens.”
DeLeon said Iowa Western reached out to him near the end of his junior season and kept in touch ever since. With his college future secured, DeLeon is excited to focus on finishing out his senior season. For him, that includes spending his time as the girls basketball team’s manager before competing for the track and field program this spring.
“It’s really nice,” DeLeon said of making the decision. “A lot of schools were pressuring to get my decision in and now it’s off my shoulders and I get to really enjoy the rest of the girls (basketball) season. They’re going to do big things coming up here and I’m really excited to watch it. Track season is coming up (and I’m) a big man doing the 300(-meter) hurdles. I can’t wait to do it again. It’s going to be really fun.”
DeLeon will also continue working on getting bigger, faster and stronger as he prepares to transition into life as a college football player.
“I think I have a lot of potential left in my body,” DeLeon said. “I don’t think I’ve reached my peak yet. I think that going to that school is going to develop my body into the standard I need it to be and the level of talent that you need to play against, some of the best football players on the planet.”
DeLeon was an unblockable force in the trenches for the Cardinals throughout his tenure, so the fact he feels he can still get better may be a scary thought for college offensive lineman. But as DeLeon departs from Chippewa Falls later this year, he said he will take the lessons and examples learned from the community with him.
“There’s good people here in Chippewa,” DeLeon said. “You’re not going to find that a lot of places. There’s good people here and that’s what I’m going to take with me and just being a good person. Good things happen to good people.”
In many cases, numbers can tell a whole story.
“It was just a pleasure to have him around, have him part of the team and to be a team leader. He showed a lot of young kids a lot of positive things and showed some guidance to those younger kids.” - Chi-Hi football coach Chuck Raykovich, on Rico DeLeon