Childhood mistake now just a memory for Sto-Rox linebacker
Marian Rowe isn't shy when telling the story about the days her grandson spent locked up at the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center.
Three years later, she sees a happy ending.
"It was a hard decision, but I had to teach him a lesson," said Rowe, a longtime McKees Rocks resident who has played a lead role in raising him. "I look at a lot of the men who are standing on the streets, and when they were in high school, they were decent athletes, but then they chose the wrong road.
"I pray he stays grounded."
Her grandson is Deaysean Rippy, a junior at Sto-Rox who has developed into a highly recruited football player. Both maternal grandmother and grandson agree that without the lesson learned those 12 days in 2007, Rippy's future might look much different.
"It was a life-changing moment," said Rippy, a talented linebacker already being coveted by college coaches nationwide. "At that time, I was hanging around a bad crowd. After I went to Shuman, I knew this lifestyle wasn't for me.
"That was my first and last time."
As Rippy tells the story, he was an eighth-grader in Moon trying to find a way to his grandmother's place in McKees Rocks. There was no ride available, but there was a Moon school van parked with keys in the ignition.
So he took it.
"With the van, I could get home in 15 minutes," Rippy said. "Otherwise, it was going to take three hours."
But he didn't go straight home. Rippy rode around in the van until McKees Rocks police stopped him about 150 yards from his grandmother's home at nearly 2 a.m., he said, and detained him for possession of a stolen vehicle.
"The cops found it unusual to see a 13- or 14-year-old kid driving around at 2 in the morning," Rippy said.
That's when his grandmother got tough.
She didn't want to see him on the streets. At the time, Rippy said, his role models were the older teens in the neighborhood "with stacks of money in their hands."
His grandmother wanted him to follow a different path.
"I don't want to see these kids on the streets hustling drugs and going to jail," said Rowe, a member of her neighborhood's resident council.
When she awoke to middle-of-the-night knocks on her front door, she expected bad news. Good news rarely comes at that time of day, she said, a suspicion confirmed when she talked with the officers.
She went with them to the McKees Rocks police station, Rowe said, and to their surprise she told the officers she wasn't taking her grandson home with her. She wanted them to send Rippy to Shuman.
Twelve long days
No one told Rippy the plan.
"I had a court hearing, and the judge said: 'If your grandmother comes to pick you up, you can go,' " Rippy said. "The clock is ticking, and I'm thinking: 'Is she coming?' I sat in there for 12 days, which is a long time. Twelve days seemed like two months."
Now older and more mature, he can appreciate her decision.
"I've changed," said Rippy, who was sentenced to two months house arrest and 200 hours of community service, which he performed at an area food bank. "My attitude, my work ethic, my personality (all) changed. As you get older, when you look back on the things you did, it seems foolish."
He has replaced the streets with school, what he calls the other option in McKees Rocks, a hardscrabble town of 6,600 people. More than 25 percent of its people live below the poverty line.
Life here isn't always easy, including for Rippy, now 17.
His mother is "here in and out," said Rowe, who became Rippy's legal guardian. Rippy has lived with his grandmother since returning to McKees Rock.
Also in the household are two former foster children Rowe adopted -- Solomon Shackleford and Ben Shackleford, a sophomore teammate of Rippy's on the Sto-Rox football team.
There at his grandmother's home, Rippy helps care for his older brother, Deaymond, 18, who has been a quadriplegic since a childhood illness left him paralyzed. As the strongest in the household, Rippy at times carries Deaymond up stairs or lifts him into his grandmother's truck.
Top linebacker prospect
Rippy had no choice but to mature quickly.
"If people only knew what Deaysean has gone through, and a number of other kids on the team have gone through," said Sto-Rox coach Ron Butschle, whose McKees Rocks experience stretches back a couple of decades. "It's not so easy for them. One thing football provides for Deaysean is an outlet where, for three or four hours a day, the outside world doesn't exist."
On the football field, Rippy, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker, has become a star.
After last season, when Rippy had 77 tackles and seven sacks, Rippy was named one of the nation's best sophomores by Maxpreps.com .
"He's got as much talent as anybody I've coached at the linebacker spot," said Butschle, who believes Rippy could become one of the country's best linebackers during the rest of this season and next. "He's very, very fast. He's very athletic. I think he's going to grow into a 225-pound linebacker who has all the skills to play inside or outside."
Rippy exceled at the February Nike Camp in Pittsburgh. There, he ran the shuttle in 4.5 seconds and the 40-yard dash in 4.79, though he has bettered that mark elsewhere. In the classroom, he's carrying a 3.2 grade-point average.
National recruiting expert Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports said Rippy should be a top 100 recruit as a senior and has considered Rippy for his upcoming All-American team of juniors.
"He'll be a national name by next year," Lemming said.
Positive role models
Against Rochester a couple of Fridays ago, Rippy made an interception from his linebacker spot and caught a touchdown pass while playing receiver, a new position for him. After a 46-0 victory over Union on Friday, Sto-Rox is 4-1.
"He seems like a kid with a lot of character," said Rochester coach Gene Matsook, who shook Rippy's hand after the game. "He's a very polite kid."
Rippy's role models have changed.
Among those he admires are Steelers safeties Ryan Mundy and Ryan Clark, whom he met through former Steelers special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky, a Sto-Rox graduate. Mundy and Rippy have exchanged text messages and conversed through Facebook.
Mundy said he would like to attend one of Rippy's games.
"I just try to give him encouragement -- it is a long road," said Mundy, who lived part of his youth in the city's West End near McKees Rocks. "You have to keep guys focused and make sure they are doing the right things, so they can go where they want to go."
While at Woodland Hills, Mundy was motivated by visits from Lousaka Polite and Shawntae Spencer - alumni who reached the NFL.
"I just want to keep the ball rolling," Mundy said.
Although college football programs cannot give written scholarship offers to juniors, Rippy expects them from Pitt, Ohio State, Florida and many others when the time comes. Football could provide Rippy a path to college that sometimes is rare in McKees Rocks, where only 8 percent have bachelor's degrees.
When his family was on vacation, he and his grandmother visited the University of Florida's campus in Gainesville and spoke with coaches.
"It was the experience of a lifetime," Rowe said. "Not to take anything away from the other schools, but I think that would be a good place for him."
That November night three years ago seemed long ago.
"It was a dumb mistake that happened in my past," Rippy said. "I've become a better person."