Regina senior Reagan Ries (left) and Jake Brinkman (right) line up against Solon on Sept. 2. Jackie Blake Jensen/IC PixxBy Pat Harty
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Jeff Ries was living near Dallas Center when he decided to move his family back home to Iowa City slightly more than a decade ago.
His mother had recently been diagnosed with cancer and Jeff wanted his family, which includes sons Adam, Zach and Reagan, to be near her in order to provide love and support.
His mother ultimately lost her battle with cancer, but she was surrounded by family and friends in her final days and that meant a great deal to Jeff.
“No matter how many years I was gone, I could always come home to Iowa City,” Jeff said.
Cancer continues to haunt the Ries family with Jeff’s father, John Ries, having battled the dreadful disease for several years now.
John’s courage and willingness to keep fighting has inspired the entire Ries family. Doctors call John a medical miracle because he has defied the odds by living well beyond what was expected.
“So every day that we have him is a gift,” Jeff Ries said of his 75-year old father.
That is especially true for Jeff’s youngest son, Reagan, who is a senior at Regina and a star lineman on the football team.
“Reagan especially has a special closeness with his grandfather,” Jeff said. “He got away with far more with him than I ever did.”
Despite his health issues, John Ries still manages to attend most of the Regina football games. His toughness and dedication serves as inspiration for Reagan.
“I love it,” Reagan Ries said of his grandfather’s support. “It’s truly amazing to see. And if I’m tired at the end of a game and I’m struggling, I can look up and see my grandpa. He’s up there, he beat cancer already.
“It’s a pretty amazing thing. It shows me that what I’m going through is not that big of a deal and I can fight through it and finish the game.”
Reagan Ries is proud to carry on a tradition at Regina that started with his grandfather playing football for the Regals in the 1950s. John Ries was also part of Regina’s first graduating class in 1959.
Jeff Ries carried on the tradition by playing football for Regina and for St. Ambrose College. And now Reagan is Jeff’s third son to play football for the Regals, who are trying to win a seventh consecutive state title this season.
Reagan’s two older brothers both set the bar extremely high by helping Regina win a state title as seniors. Reagan is determined to keep that streak alive.
“I wouldn’t really say it’s pressure,” Reagan Ries said. “I would say it’s motivation. I don’t want to go home at Thanksgiving and have to tell my brothers that we didn’t win a state championship because I think in my family we have seven or eight state championships with us just from football. And I don’t want to be the one to say we didn’t win one.”
Regina is currently ranked No. 1 in Class 1A and will bring a 3-1 record into Friday’s game at Highland (2-2).
The Regals have plenty of firepower, but it all starts on the offensive line, with players like Ries leading the way.
“He’s a tough kid and plays incredible and gives you everything he’s got all the time,” Regina Coach Marv Cook said of Ries. “He fought through some tough times last year with back spasms and just punched through. He’s going to give you everything he’s got every single time and for every second he’s on the football field.”
Ries is short for an offensive lineman, listed at just 5-foot-11 and weighing about 255 pounds. But he compensates by being tough and fundamentally sound.
“He’s a great player technique-wise,” Cook said. “He’s solid. He’s got great feet. He’s a leverage nightmare for guys. I mean he comes and brings a good pad level when he’s trapping and pulling and run blocking. He’s a road grater.”
Ries grew up in a family that is known for being tough and physical. Nothing seems to intimidate him. His older brother Zach was the same way as a star lineman for the Regals
“They play with a little bit of attitude,” Jeff Ries said of Reagan and Zach. “And some people will say that they must have gotten that from me, but I wasn’t a lineman. I was a defensive back and receiver in high school.
“What I always tell them is when you’re not gifted physically, you have to play with a little bit more.”
Reagan Ries has carried on another tradition that was started by his older brother Zach by wearing the jersey No. 64.
Zach Ries first requested that number as a seventh grader, but he kept the reason to himself.
“We didn’t realize it until Zachary was a junior that he picked the number sixty-four because that’s how old his grandmother was when she passed away,” Jeff Ries said. “We had no idea. He picked that in seventh grade and stuck with that.
“And then growing up, Reagan didn’t want that number until his freshman year. And he said, ‘you know what, I’m ready for that number.”’
Reagan credits Zach for being a huge influence on him. Zach allowed Reagan to tag along as a kid and that was how Reagan got introduced to football and sports in general.
Reagan just wanted to be like his older brother.
“He actually has been one of my biggest coaches,” Reagan said of Zach, who now plays football for Upper Iowa. “I started going to practices in the fifth and sixth grade and he always was telling me what to do most of the time. He’s just been a great coach. He’s helped me out a lot along the way.”
Regina offensive line coach Alex Kanellis also has played a significant role in the development of both Reagan and Zach.
“What coach Kanellis teaches them in the weight room makes a huge difference,” Jeff Ries said.
“That’s where a lot of that leverage comes from.”
Reagan Ries takes great pride in wearing down an opponent in the trenches. He could feel that happening in the second half of Regina’s 34-0 victory over Class 3A rival Solon in the second game of the season.
“It’s the best part when you can wear on a team the whole game,” Reagan Ries said. “You saw it a lot in the Solon game. It was a close, it was 7-0 at halftime and you could see we were starting to wear on them and it just opened up holes. We were more physical and we just won the line in that second half. That’s what made it fun.”
Reagan Ries is part of an offensive line that is clearly the strength of this year’s Regina team. He and fellow senior lineman Jared Brinkman form a potent one-two punch in the trenches.
They first met in the third grade and have since become close friends who are very competitive and stubborn. Neither likes to give in to the other.
“We go after it with each other,” Ries said. “It’s physical. But we’re good friends afterwards.”
Their relationship sometimes gets real physical, like during a recent practice when Ries tripped over a helmet that he thought belonged to Brinkman.
“He left his helmet out and got a little upset and started yelling at him,” Ries said. “It got a little physical. But we handled it. We’ve been friends forever. So we’ve always just gone back and forth with each other.”
Ries and Brinkman haven’t always been teammates, though.
“When we were in fifth and sixth grade we played against each other in flag football, and we’ve always just been competitive with each other,” Ries said. “It’s always been me versus him. But on Fridays, it’s us versus everyone else.”
Brinkman has made a verbal commitment to play football for Northern Iowa, while Ries still is uncertain about his future.
I want to play (college football) but I’m not sure where yet,” Ries said.
Ries knows that his height is a disadvantage when it comes to attracting attention from colleges. But he doesn’t worry about it or feel sorry for himself.
“It’s a little frustrating, but you’ve just got to do your best with what God has given you,” Ries said. “Your work ethic determines where you go in life, not what you’re given by God.”
Cook believes strongly that Ries has what it takes to play college football at some level.
“He can play,” Cook said. “He’ll find a way to play whether it’s defensive tackle, nose guard or offensive guard or center. If he wants to go pursue it, he can play somewhere.”