They are what we aspire to become.
Very rarely do we come across the individual who grew up alongside of you and wish to be like that person.
But in my case that is true.
One of my role models graduated high school the same year as I did.
He grew up in State College as I did.
He attended Penn State University just as I did
He was a walk-on to the Penn State Football team, just as I was.
My role model is Brandon Ream.
He is 28, he has cancer, and the qualities that have made him one of my role models have not changed.
My first memory of Brandon was in the fifth or sixth grade. I was playing youth basketball in the Pioneer league. I had no idea who he was at the time. But I remember two very specific things. I got my first technical foul, and Brandon was unstoppable. Earlier in the year I had a game where I scored over twenty points. I was beginning to blossom as an athlete and my confidence was sky high. I bragged that at the time no one had ever scored more points in a game than me. That I was the best and I was only going to get better. In all likelihood, I was acting like a brat.
In this game though this kid who was similar in stature to me could not be stopped. While I was playing Center for my team, this kid was playing Point Guard for his. Handling the ball with ease and getting to the rim for layups, or pulling up for jump shots seemed as though it was natural. He was fluid, and never seemed to be even sweating. As a competitor this irritated me. He got under my skin, not by talking trash or by playing dirty, but by just being good. Sometime late in the game he drove again and this time I was able to rotate in time and swat the shot out of bounds.
"Get it out!" I screamed
The whistle blew and I promptly turned in disbelief. There was no way there was a foul.
"Technical Foul number 43" said the ref.
I'm still upset over the technical, because it was an emotional play, and we were getting our butts kicked. I didn't curse and I didn't say anything else. But more over as I remember how Brandon didn't react back. He didn't reply after he knocked down the two free throws. He didn't showboat or talk after they had won. In short he stayed classy.
For the next two years, I would know Brandon mostly as another great athlete. While I attended Park Forrest Middle School, Brandon would attend Mt. Nittany and our paths didn't cross very often.
It wouldn't be until the 9th grade that I truly began to get to know him.
Brandon was the son of Gary Ream, the owner and President of Woodward Skate Camp. Which meant he was the son of one of the wealthiest families in State College. However unlike general stereotypes about the rich, Brandon was the opposite of what wealthy kids are portrayed as. He never flaunted or flashed his wealth in school. He never put himself ahead of others. He never acted entitled. He was a good guy. A selfless guy. The kind of guy that I envied not for what he had, but for how he acted.
We became teammates that year for our freshman football squad. He played quarterback, while I played Tight End. Together we became a pretty formidable combination, particularly on deep pass plays. When it came to our vote for MVP of that team it was between Brandon and myself. Brandon won the award, and while it could have left me bitter or jilted, instead I just felt happy for Brandon.
After our senior year was over we talked about where we might go to school. While I was surely going to go to Penn State, Brandon had actually received a few scholarship offers that he was considering. While Penn State was not one of those schools offering financial support, he was recruited to be on the team as a 'preferred' walk-on'. In the end he decided to stay close to home and attend Penn State. A decision that that I and those in the Penn State community were thankful for.
After graduating high school, Brandon, myself, as well as two other State College kids were selected to play in a Centre Region All-Star game. Brandon volunteered to drive us all down in his Woodward Denali. He didn't have to, and I being a relatively shy kid loved that he would take the initiative to do something for all of us from State College. One of my favorite memories was during our lunch break we took to the local pizza shop blasting Coo Coo Cal's 'My Projects'. Riding through a tiny town in rural Pennsylvania, blasting rap music from a tinted 'Boss' car as you go for a slice of pizza is a pretty amazing feeling.
When we got to Penn State, his friendship is the biggest thing that helped me get through the anxiety that can accompany making a huge transition into walking on to Penn State. He didn't have to, but it felt good to know someone who always seemed to have my back. I didn't know anyone on the team to the extent that I knew Brandon. And his persistent smile and positive outlook always made me feel good about myself and where things were headed.
After I left the team, I would see Brandon sporadically at parties thrown at the 'White House' which was basically a house where 4 other State College kids lived. I would ask him how he was doing and vice versa. But he always greeted me with a smile, and never held it against me that I had left the football team. And when he came to my 21st birthday party, I was both shocked and incredibly happy to see him. It was great that he still thought of me and made the effort to get out to see me.
After we both had graduated, his thoughtfulness remained. He invited me to play on his basketball team in the local adult league, and while I had not played basketball in probably more than six months, I felt honored that he still considered me to be a person that he wanted to play with. The same would be true when I was asked to play for his flag football team.
My respect for Brandon is immense, because he does all of these kind things without even thinking about it. I have never heard him speak ill of anyone. I have never heard him insult someone. All that he does is positive in nature. He is competitive, intelligent, ethical, and quite literally the nicest person I believe I have ever met. People tell me that I'm a nice guy, or a good guy. And I believe they may be right. But I'm that way in part because I met Brandon Ream. He had always inspired me to be happy and to help make others feel that way too.
This past November, I missed a tradition in State College called the Turkey Bowl. Essentially former State High football players get together at Holuba Hall and compete in a tournament for fun. Brandon has been our classes captain for years. After the game Brandon came home in tremendous pain. He scheduled a doctors appointment, to have the leg looked at. The results are something that I'm still coming to grips with.
Brandon has chondroblastic osteosarcoma. An aggressive form of bone marrow cancer in his leg. He would have to begin chemotherapy almost immediately and the amount of stress and pain he would be about to be under is something I cannot fathom. Yet he endures it with smiles and confidence. With the eternal optimism and determination that he's exuded since I've known him.
He and his wife Sam have made a blog to help keep friends and family updated on his condition on his road to recovery. I check it often, hoping to get a glimpse into his busy life whenever I can. The latest one details a great thanksgiving inspired meal. But the pictures do something that my words cannot. They show the physical wear of chemotherapy on his body. They show that his body is mortal. That even a great athlete is subject to the tolls of cancer.
But they also show something else. Something of more importance.
They show his smile, and his spirit unwavering.
They show the inner fire that has always been there since I battled him in basketball as a youngster
They show the kindness that he showed me when I joined the football team in 2002.
They show the best qualities of this town, of this University.
They show a role model.