Former Nittany Lion wide receiver Tony Johnson intercepted a pass, caught a 45-yard touchdown bomb and then broke up another pass — all in three consecutive plays Friday morning.
Johnson was reliving his high school days during a fundraiser at Memorial Field that will benefit funds set up in the name of Brandom Ream and Jeremy Wise, two 29-year-old former teammates who died this year.
About 120 graduates of State College Area High School, including Johnson, played Friday in the Turkey Bowl, the annual alumni competition game that raises money to provide scholarships for students at the school. As of Friday afternoon, the event had raised more than $13,000 for the initiatives — well more than the $10,000 goal.
“This is very, very powerful, and Brandon’s struggles and his passing have brought everybody together to a level that I didn’t think possible,” said Gary Ream, whose son died Monday after a two-year bout with cancer. “Hopefully events like this, Team Ream and our son’s memory will go on. That’s all I can ask for.”
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On the field, the former Little Lion players hugged and consoled Gary Ream and the father of Wise, Dan Wise. Some wore “Team Ream” shirts, others had drawn a No. 7 on their shirts for Wise.
“It’s a tremendous source of comfort to us, knowing how much Jeremy meant to all these guys,” said Dan Wise, whose son died May 5. “It’s the things like this that really help you move forward. You never get used it, never get over it.”
Ream and Jeremy Wise played football for State High and graduated in 2002. Ream then walked on as a punter at Penn State, and Wise played football for Robert Morris University.
Last year, the proceeds from the event went toward Coaches vs. Cancer in the name of Ream, who was battling cancer and had been a yearly participant.
The alumni football tournament has been organized by Chris Ganter, a 2001 State High grad and former Nittany Lion quarterback. Teams were organized by graduation year, and the rules were one-hand touch, one blitz per set of downs and the first team to score five touchdowns in a game was the winner.
Ganter corralled the participants in for a quick pep talk and an all-team photo before the competition got started.
“It’s been a tough year for some of us,” he said referring to the Class of 2002. “But it’s great they’re out, and they’d be here as well,” he said about Ream and Wise.
The Class of 2006 hoisted the trophy after stopping the Ganter-and-Johnson-led team of the classes of 2000 and 2001 in overtime.
Chris Fry, Mike Johnson and Aondover Ityokumbul were on the Class of 2002 team and played in their first Turkey Bowl. They said they came to play in honor of their friends’ memory.
“That’s why I’m here — support,” said Fry, who was Wise’s best friend. “He always played, and I was always sleeping on his couch.”
Tony Johnson, who played running back at State High, praised team effort for the fundraising and teammate Ganter for organizing.
“The money that they will raise for Brandon, Jeremy and the State College Football Foundation in a matter of three days is unreal,” Johnson said. “I think it shows what type of community we have, what type of kids came out of State College.”