Rylan Michel’s trademark shoulder-length hair extending from his ball cap or helmet has been conspicuous by its absence going on three-plus months now.
Michel received an ever-so-close cut upon introducing himself to a barber in May, as did most of Nixa’s baseball team, in celebration of the Eagles' Class 6 Final Four berth.
“It was definitely a change,” he said of his haircut. “I'm not used to it. I had long hair for three or four years, so it’s been weird. Everyone's been pretty surprised when they've seen me. (The hair) will be back, I'm working on it. I'm growing it out.”
As Michel preps for his senior year and looks back on what has already been a standout Eagles career on the ball diamond and gridiron, he can’t help but be thankful he hasn’t been missing altogether from the Nixa sports scene.
Michel was forced to step away from sports when he was in the sixth grade. Doctors handed him a diagnosis of Cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body.
There was reason for Michel and his family to think the disease was inherited. A great-uncle of Rylan’s died of sudden cardiac arrest when he was 17 years old.
“(Doctors) took me away from all sports for a year,” Michel said. “It was terrible, I thought about (sports) every day. Everybody knows sports are kind of my life.”
During his newly-found idle time, Michel did his best not to give up hope he would be able to make a return to athletics. He made repeated visits to heart specialists in Kansas City in hopes of receiving any sort of update with good news, or a miracle, if you will.
“I prayed for it and it finally came around,” he said. “(Doctors) looked deeper and found (they) mis-diagnosed it, so they let me get back to sports."
Michel was instead diagnosed with an enlarged heart and received clearance to resume the activities he had grown up with.
“I was ecstatic,” he said. “It was definitely life-changing.”
Michel's return to football and baseball has been everything he hoped it would be.
He will become part of select company at Nixa by earning four varsity letters in baseball and three in football. He first became a starter in baseball as a right fielder his freshman year, played second base his sophomore season and was a left fielder as a junior. He’s been an integral part of the Eagles’ receiving corps since the start of his sophomore year.
Michel topped Nixa with 39 receptions for 621 yards last fall, but had to settle for an All-COC Second-Team selection. In the spring, he was named to the Class 6 All-State First Team and All-COC First-Team as an outfielder.
He is due to continue his baseball carer at the juco level, after committing to Crowder over the summer.
“I'm going to take baseball as far as I can go," Michel said.
Thus, this will be Michel’s final go-around strapping on shoulder pads and running sideline and cross routes. He hasn’t felt nostalgic, yet, about catching passes for the final time, but suspects he will as soon as Nixa’s ‘Senior Night’ season-opener next week versus Webb City.
“‘Senior Night' will be kind of surreal for me. It will hit me then,” Michel said. "I’m going to miss football. I'll try not to drop a few tears, but it might happen.”