Mike Rallis: Gridiron In The Blood

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Go Gophers! Mike Rallis
Go Gophers!
Mike Rallis is on this weekend's game program.
Go Gophers!
He is impossible to miss.

His long brown hair flowing out from under his helmet bouncing with every stride as he pursues an opposing running back. His hulking 245-pound frame comes crashing down as he stops the opposition for no gain.

He is Mike Rallis and he is a football player. He has not always looked like this, but he has always been a football player.

"We are football junkies in the Rallis' house," said the fifth-year senior who patrols the field as the starting middle linebacker for the Gophers. "We enjoy every part of the game. The history of it. The physical part of it. And the mental part of it."
Rallis, his older brother Matt and younger brother Nick grew up in the nearby Minneapolis suburb of Edina. And if you were to go to his house, it would not take long to discover that they really are a football family.

"You cannot go over to their house and not have a game on or something going on that relates to football," said Bill Miller, who is the assistant head coach and linebacker coach for Minnesota. "They are into it."

It has always been that way too. Growing up the three boys would play football - tackle football - inside the house or outside.

"Matt and I used to get into it quite a bit because we are a little bit closer in age," said Rallis of his older brother who played quarterback at Edina. "We used to battle on the football field. He would get the best of me and then I would get the best of him. It would get pretty competitive, but at the end of the day we always shook it off."

One thing that never shook off was that internal desire to work hard and lead. That intangible compulsion to embrace pain and welcome it into his body.  It is that thing that makes coach Kill say, "He has some insides to him."

When Rallis was deciding where to go to college he shunned scholarship offers from smaller schools like UNLV, Wyoming and New Mexico. He turned aside his childhood dream and an opportunity to walk-on for the Miami Hurricanes and decided to stay close to home and attend college only a few miles where he grew up.

"I came in as a walk-on," he said. "The first summer I started off at linebacker, but moved to safety pretty quickly. I was real quiet. I put my head down and went to work and tried to earn a scholarship as soon as I could."
He earned that scholarship during preseason camp of his freshman year.

"I played a little bit my freshman year," said Rallis who was 35 pounds lighter than he is today and sported almost no hair at all. "Then during my sophomore season I broke my leg."

He used his medical redshirt year to get bigger and stronger. He also made a position switch moving from safety to linebacker. As he put it, he "would do whatever I need to do to help the team."

Coach Kill, who would take over the Gophers at the end of the 20120 season, said "He made himself into a ballplayer."

When Rallis returned to the lineup at the start of the 2010 season, he immediately began helping the team. In his first game back, he led the Gophers with seven tackles and had an interception. He finished his sophomore season with three interceptions and led Minnesota in tackles in three of the nine games he played in.

Nick Rallis, who is a freshman linebacker with the Gophers this year, has always known his older brother to be a leader. "It is in his blood," says Nick.

In high school, Mike Rallis was the vocal leader for the Hornets. He knew he wanted to be that guy for the Gophers as well, but also knew that leaders can only lead if there are others who want to follow them.

So before he became one of the strongest voices on the team, he went back to what he did during his freshman year. He put his head down and went to work.

"I think I tried to lead by example as much as I could early on," said Rallis. "I wanted to get it done on the field before I started leading vocally. What I have tried to be is a guy who is doing what he is always supposed to be doing. Then the other guys can look to that and say, 'There's Rallis always doing what he is supposed to be doing.' Then when you talk your words mean something."

This year, during his senior season, he has become that rare leader who not only paves the way by example, but also has a voice that resonates. Coach Miller says Rallis is always in the film room trying to get better.

"He studies the game really hard," said Miller, who been in the college coaching ranks for more than 35 years. "He has a great understanding of the concepts that we are trying to teach."

Before, during or after a game - or practice for that matter - it is almost impossible not to see No. 26 talking to a teammate or to the group as a whole.

After the triple-overtime win at UNLV to begin the year, Rallis was the player who broke down the team in the locker room after the game. Prior to the New Hampshire game, he was in the middle of the team on the sideline getting everyone ready to play.

"He has stepped up this year," said Kill. "I used to have to do all that stuff, but I have kind of taken a step back and have let the kids jump out there and see who wants to take a chance on some things. Mike has."

"He has really accepted that role," said Miller, who calls Rallis a coaches' dream. "The real good ones are always that way."

"He has always been like that and it was time for him to step up," said younger brother Nick. "It just came natural to him."

Like most seniors, Rallis knows his college career is coming to a close with each passing day. And like most seniors, he admits it went by way faster than he could have imagined. After today, he will play only eight more regular-season games. And before long, he will be pulling off that Minnesota jersey for the final time.

"The main thing I am trying to do right now is not look ahead to anything," he said. "I want to take it one day at a time and just enjoy every day and every practice. Even the stuff that people think is boring, just enjoy it."

His perspective may be sharper than most. One that has helped been formed by the tragic and sudden loss of former teammate Gary Tinsley last April.

"That had a great effect on me," he said. "It makes you realize how precious life is. Gary was the type of guy who lived every day to the fullest and was always having fun. That is something I try to emulate. I looked up to Gary and I just try to take advantage of every single day."

After five years at Minnesota, Rallis has changed physically and matured into a natural leader. But at his core, he is still just a football player who enjoys that intangible compulsion to embrace pain and welcome it into his body.

"If you get done with a game and you are not sore, then you feel like you did not do enough," he said. "That is definitely something I like, that feeling after a game being battered and bruised a little bit."

So among the on-filed carnage, look for No. 26 stopping that running back for no gain. With that hair he is impossible to miss. But before kickoff and in between plays, keep your ears open as well because these days Rallis' voice is just about everywhere too.

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