CHIPPEWA FALLS — Rico De-Leon was named a first-team all-state football player and the regional defensive player of the year as a defensive lineman for the Chippewa Falls Cardinals.
However, De-Leon is equally proud of his many accomplishments off the gridiron.
With a wry smile, De-Leon boasts about raising more than $4,000 in a variety of fundraisers at the high school. He is eager to get involved in projects and spearheads the capital campaigns. He credits his ability to reach people on social media.
“I think I’ve proven I can do it,” he said. “I’m good at spreading the message. You have to have confidence to do that.”
Chippewa Falls athletic director Mike Thompson said one of those fundraisers was for a River Falls football player, Tanner Kelm, who developed cancer. When the River Falls boys’ basketball team played at Chippewa Falls over the winter, De-Leon set up a fundraiser, with the money going to Kelm’s family.
“His heart is as big as it gets,” Thompson said. “Rico is everywhere, from gymnastics meets to basketball and hockey games. He’s there in the front row. He creates the vibe we have here at the school. He likes to get other people involved.”
De-Leon, 18, is from Madison. He moved to Chippewa Falls in fourth grade.
At 6-foot-3, De-Leon quickly became a stellar football player, starting as a sophomore.
“I started getting looks from colleges,” he said.
He began participating in combines and football drills around the state.
However, De-Leon admits he has struggled in school, particular his freshman year, when he had a 1.5 grade-point average. However, he got that up to a 3.5 GPA by his junior year.
“Good grades came with hard work,” he said with a modest shrug. “I used to think B’s and C’s were OK. It consistently went up after (freshman year).”
So, De-Leon has decided rather than start directly at a larger college football program, he will head in the fall to Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where the Reivers football team is a traditional powerhouse in the National Junior College Athletic Association. He intends to transfer after two years.
“It seems like a good fit,” he said. “They are really good. They won the national championship (in 2012.)”
When he isn’t playing football or lifting weights, De-Leon stayed active by being the manager of the girls’ basketball team. He also loves playing his X-Box One, even if it means he is driving his parents nuts at home.
“It’s how I stay out of trouble,” he said.
He also recently spoke to a group of middle school special education students about what it’s like to attend high school.
While De-Leon envisions a future of playing meaningful football games on Saturdays in college, and perhaps on Sundays in the NFL, he said he also sees himself entering a career in law enforcement.
De-Leon said he was humbled and honored to get the accolades for his on-field feats.
“I expected to get them, but that didn’t matter if my team wasn’t winning,” he said.
His parents are Lisa and Ricardo De-Leon. Ricardo moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic in the 1980s, he said. He also has an older sister, Samantha, who graduated from Chippewa Falls High School in 2016 and now attends the University of Minnesota.