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Fighting like Rocky: New Prairie's Ryans inspired in his play by the memory of his brother

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

The Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11, is written in a script down Dallas Ryans' right forearm.

That and his uniform number, 25, are an homage to his brother Rocky Jeremiah, who died of a form of cancer as an infant on Christmas, Dec. 25, 2016.

"It's a joyful time, but a sad time for us," Ryans said of the holidays. "We got his middle name from this quote. I got it 'tatted' to represent him. It means the world to me. He was named for Rocky Balboa because he was a fighter, never giving up. Since he didn't make it through, it's impacted my life. I think it changed my life, for real. I'm going to play sports and change my number to 25, play for him, fight as hard as he did to stay alive. He never got the chance I get. I'm going to work as hard as I can for him, do everything I can for him."

Dallas Ryans of New Prairie has the Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:18 tattooed on his right forearm as a remembrance of his brother Rocky Jeremiah, who died as an infant Dec. 25, 2016.

No one gets more out of a 5-foot-7, 155-pound package than Ryans, who starts at receiver and cornerback for the Cougars.

"He hasn't grown an inch. I give him grief about that once in a while, but Dallas is an unbelievable playmaker in a small package," NP coach Casey McKim said. "He plays so much bigger than he is. He's strong. He's an unbelievable competitor. He's always had that confidence. You've got to have that belief that you're always going to win your match-up. It's all about mentality. I tell our receivers, if they guard you with one guy, they're wrong. You should take that as a challenge."

Playing with that edge has always typified Ryans, who's also a middle infielder and top of the order hitter on the baseball team.

"I've got some nasty," he said. "I like being aggressive. It's how I've always played football. Eye of the tiger. I think people really underestimate me because of the height thing. I've been hearing it my entire life that I'm short. Even me, if I see a short guy, I'm like, well, it's a short guy. I've just never seen size like that. I just play as hard as possible."

Ryans' dad John, a South Bend police officer, was a three-sport athlete at Clay. Dallas grew up playing football, joining the Rocket youth league in fifth grade, basketball and baseball before giving up hoops in after middle school. His modest size, with the combination of strength and toughness has also made him a target of New Prairie wrestling coach and football assistant Bobby Whitenack.

"A lot of people say that," Ryans said. "Ever since I came here, he has been on me about that."

During McKim's first season (2020), Ryans was the Cougars' No. 2 receiver with 11 catches and 133 yards. His numbers were similar (11 catches, 169 yards) last season as Ben Fronk became the main pass catching target.

"Even the times when the ball wasn't finding him, he always had an amazing attitude," McKim said. "He's been able to impact the game a lot more."

With most all of NP's receivers and defensive backs graduating last year, Ryans' role expanded dramatically as he not only became receiver one but also returned to the secondary, a position he played but was used sparingly at in recent years.

"I love that, just playing, being out there as much as I can, enjoying every single moment of it," he said. "I like playing both ways. It's hard, I just don't think it's that tiring."

Ryans has made 25 tackles and has two of NP's 15 interceptions.

"Our defensive backs were some of the best we had across the board in recent years," McKim said. "I remember hearing in the off-season, teams we were playing early in the year, they've got a whole new secondary, I think we can take advantage of that. I pretty much knew the guys who were going to be filling those spots and I feel pretty good about what we're going to do. It's pretty much the only spot on the field if you make a mistake, it's probably a touchdown. You have to have a short memory. Dallas had a lot to learn, technique-wise, but he continues to work at that every single week. He has really come into his own."

As a corner who plays receiver, Ryans knows offensive tendencies, but tries not to bog himself down with pre-snap analysis.

"If I think about this and think about that, it's going to get me all messed up," he said. "I just look at their pads and stay on them. At first, what was hard for me was double moves. Now I kind of just sit there and wait."

While New Prairie remains run heavy on offense, it has begun incorporating more passing into its scheme as teams start to load the box against the run game.

"What we've been doing throwing the ball has been kind of limited, but now we're starting to add it back again," McKim said. "It's like building a car. You've got to have the base thing that works, the engine. You have to set that groundwork, get good at it before you can add on those other things on. I feel this is the year we've evolved offensively and (Ryans has) been a big part of that."

Ryans had touchdown catches of 34 and 62 yards in Friday's 42-6 rout of Lowell.

New Prairie's Dallas Ryans had two touchdown catches in Friday's Class 4A Sectional 17 semifinal against Lowell. (Photo by Mike Kellems)

"He had a massive game," McKim said. "A lot of teams we've faced, they haven't really sold out to (the run). We really felt we were getting those one on ones to really take advantage. If you have a good offense, you've got to be able to do both. The better we are at both, the more we increase the effectiveness of the other. We're getting to that point. What it comes down to is, we've got to win between the tackles and if they sell out, we've got to be able to win on the outside."

That's music to Ryans' ears as he always likes to have more pass plays called.

"Our connection is full max at practice," he said of quarterback Marshall Kmiecik. "We're like bread and butter. I feel like we can never fully show that in a game. (Lowell) was probably my best game. One thing we're actually working on, instead of me just blocking, is running routes to see what's open and telling him, yo, this is open, even it out a little more on passing and running."

Depending on how things develop, Ryans would be interested in playing baseball or football in college. If sports isn't in the equation, he may be go straight to work, possibly as a building contractor or studying to be a firefighter.

The Cougars travel to Hobart on Friday in pursuit of a sectional title repeat.

"I think we can definitely improve on it," Ryans said. "It depends on how we prepare for each week. If we all focus, we're all into it, play as hard as possible, I think we can go as far as we want to it."

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