It’s just past 7 p.m. on a cool Thursday evening, and the Reams family has gathered at Brenda and Jack Reams’ Centralia home. Jack sits in a rocking chair in the corner of the living room, surrounded by his family, including wife Brenda, son Rusty, daughter-in-law Pam and two grandchildren.
Tonight, Jack rattles off a favorite story from his high school football days.
He’s got plenty of them. This one involves a speedy running back and a big tackle. Jack’s eyes open wide as he recalls the story.
The fastest running back in the conference broke free for a run, before Jack leveled him.
“But then that little booger just jumped right up and ran back over to the huddle,” Jack says.
The family shares a laugh, as they often do when Jack digs into his bag of football tales.
When Lance Reams, Centralia’s 6-foot-4, 278-pound senior lineman, enters the house and tells the family he has locked his keys in his school locker, it’s one of the few times during the evening when football is not the focal point of conversation.
But then, that’s how it usually works in the Reams household. If it doesn’t involve a pigskin, a football field or a three-point stance, then for the most part, the Reams aren’t interested.
“If they’re not the most football-crazed family in Centralia, they’re real close,” Centralia football coach Erle Bennett said. “Football’s a big deal. I’ve known Lance’s dad for a long time, and I can’t remember a game he hasn’t been at, even before Lance began playing.”
Just how big is football in the family? Dinner-table conversation usually revolves around the sport. The Reams subscribe to the NFL Channel for unlimited football around the clock, and in the fall of 2003, Brenda Reams, Lance’s grandmother, bought an 11-passenger van so the family could attend Centralia’s away games together.
Rusty, a supervisor at Designer Kitchens and Baths in Columbia, planned to take a day off work recently to see the opening of Friday Night Lights, a film based on the best-selling book of the same name, which profiles a high school football team in West Texas. And he would’ve gone, except he couldn’t get any of his buddies to skip out on work, too.
“I grew up around this stuff,” Lance says. “From the time I was born, I was surrounded by football. From the time I was two, I was in the living room learning how to get in a three-point stance and come out low.”
It all started in 1960. When Jack, a husky seventh-grader with an appetite for physical play, decided to go out for the football team at Centralia Junior High, it sparked a passion that has spanned three generations.
“Centralia’s a football town, and in the ’50s and ’60s, football was all there was,” Jack says. “It was either football or basketball, so I played football. I was big.”
In the 1980s, Jack’s son, Rusty, developed into a talented tackle at Centralia and was part of a Panthers team that came within one game of the state championship in 1984.
“Growing up, I played baseball for a while, and I did a little wrestling,” Rusty said. “But besides that, football was the big thing. Everyone played football. That’s just what you did in Centralia.”
So when Lance was born on Jan. 13, 1987, there was really no question as to what sport he’d play. Now, nearly half a century since Jack’s first junior high practice, Lance is playing on the same field his father and grandfather played on so many years ago. Last season, when Centralia defeated Lawson 42-0, Lance claimed the state championship that eluded both his elders.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Lance says. “Thinking that they played here, they practiced here and they got yelled at here just like I do every day.”
Family members say the passion for football is strongest in the third member of the Reams family to pass through Centralia’s program.
“It’s that third generation love for football,” Brenda said. “It’s getting stronger with each generation. When Lance grows up and has kids, there’s no telling what will happen. They’ll probably live in a football house.”
Naturally, Jack and Rusty have tried to impart as much knowledge as possible onto the family’s current Panther. Rusty, who heads Centralia’s youth football team for fifth and sixth graders, acts as his son’s at-home coach. The two routinely review tapes of Lance’s games, with the elder offering suggestions and constructive criticisms where he sees necessary.
“It’s very beneficial to me,” Lance says of the review sessions. “It’s where I’m taught what I’m doing wrong, whether it’s physically or mentally.”
On the other hand, having two former players around has its downside. Dad and Grandpa have proved harsh critics, setting high standards and expecting nothing less than perfection.
It’s especially rough after a bad game.
“He doesn’t want to see his dad after a bad game,” says Lance’s mother, Pam. “He’ll go to his room for the night, and it usually gets real quiet around the house. And then the next day, that’s when they’ll start talking about it.”
But the post-game rants, however severe, have no doubt paid dividends. Last June, Lance kicked off his summer, during which he attended six football camps at various universities across the country, by winning the Best Lineman award at MU’s Full Contact Camp, and last March, he earned an invite to the prestigious Nike Combine in Iowa City, Iowa.
Several universities, including Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma State, are recruiting him. Kansas is showing the most interest.
“They call about once a week,” Lance says. “Oklahoma State called the other day.”
Now that Centralia is officially out of the state high school playoff picture (the Panthers finished 5-5 after losing their last game 42-8 to Westran), the family’s attention has turned to the future.
Back in the living room, the Reams speak with excitement about the prospect of watching Lance play college football. Dad and Grandpa would love the football bond to continue, no matter how many miles separate the generations. Neither Jack nor Rusty played in college, although Rusty planned to play at Marshall, before more pressing matters came along.
“I had one on the way,” he said laughing, referring to Lance’s birth.
Brenda, for her part, would have no problem putting the family van to use each Saturday for a trip to Lawrence.
“Oh, we’ll be there,” Brenda says. “If Lance is playing football, we’ll be there.”