He wasn’t a great athlete at all, but he was important enough to have 55 or so former St. Peter’s Prep football players come back to Grand and Warren to participate in the Jerome Pedersen Memorial Football Classic, named after the former Prep do-everything who died tragically at the tender age of 27 in 2001.
The Marauder football family all came together last Saturday in memory of Pedersen, known affectionately as “Gee.” Pedersen was the equipment manager, bus driver, assistant trainer, scorekeeper, you name it, down at the Prep during those days.
“I’m proud to come back,” said Rashawn Jackson, one of the best players in the history of the Prep program who went on to play at the University of Virginia and later had brief stints with the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders. “Once I heard about the idea, I was going to be here no matter what.”
Jackson now lives in Los Angeles and is in the sports apparel business.
He had fond memories of “Gee.”
“I met Gee when I was in eighth grade,” said Jackson, who grew up in the Greenville section of Jersey City. “He was the one who introduced me to Prep life. He prepared me to have the mentality to be part of this family. In the short period of time that I had him, he was always there for me. He made me realize that I had to give back. I look around and see these other guys and we’re all here to remember Gee and uplift his name. This place is still home to me.”
Jackson’s teammate at Prep and Virginia, Mike Brown, the former Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year, also returned to play in the Classic, which was of the flag football variety. It was unfair that Jackson and Brown, two of the youngest guys on the field, were on the same team.
Many of the players on the 1994 team that won the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 state championship returned to play in the game Saturday.
Paul Que was the premier running back for that Marauder squad. He remains an assistant coach for the Marauders.
“Jerome was such a big part of us,” said Que, who scored three touchdowns and had 161 yards in the Marauders’ 26-24 upset win over Bergen Catholic at Giants Stadium, knocking off the No. 1-ranked team in the entire country in the process. “He made me realize the importance of hard work. Seeing all these guys again, guys I played with for a state championship 20 years ago, makes me realize I’m home. It was surreal winning that year. I grew up with these guys. It’s a true family.”
Wide receiver Gerry McDermott, who scored the Marauders’ final touchdown that fateful day 20 years ago, was happy to be able to honor the memory of Pedersen.
“Jerome was such a good guy and such an integral part of our team,” McDermott said. “It’s an excellent opportunity to come back and celebrate a great life. What happened to him was sad, especially at such a young age. It really makes you appreciate things more. I always remember him in that equipment room. I always tried to get something extra, like a better facemask. It was tough to get what I wanted, because of him being so tough.”
James Souder, who was an All-State defensive end on that team and went on to have a great college career and went to training camp with the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, was also glad to participate in the event.
“It’s an honor and I appreciated the invite,” Souder said. “I think I can appreciate the state championship more as I get older. It’s hard to truly appreciate it as a 16-year-old, but as time goes on, it becomes more important. It doesn’t feel like it has been 20 years already. Gee was a huge part of our team. I can’t fathom the idea he’s not here.”
Souder is an active member of the United States National Guard and he’s set to be deployed to Kosovo for a year.
“That’s why it was important for me to be here,” Souder said. “I needed one more time to be home with my guys.”
Rich Hansen, who coached the Marauders’ three state championship squads, including the 1994 team, considered to be the best in the history of the school, felt honored to be part of the celebration, considering he coached all of the players on the field.
“It’s awesome to see so many great guys who meant so much to our program over the years to finally come back and have some fun,” Hansen said. “Maybe they’re rekindling the flame a little. It’s all about memories, a strong family bond we all shared. It’s good to see that.”
Hansen was asked if he could believe it was 20 years since Que scored those touchdowns in Giants Stadium.
“It’s crazy,” Hansen said. “I’ve been to so many of their weddings and then the christening of their children. Time sure flies.”
And Hansen was happy that the day was for such a good cause.
“Gee is the one who breathes the life into all of us,” Hansen said. “If you played here, if you didn’t have the chance to know him, you certainly knew of him. He was important to all of us. That’s what makes this special. It doesn’t matter the generation you came from. You know him. The guys are excited to be here and excited for the cause. I feel good for the Prep football bloodline.”
Lawrence Alexander graduated in 1999, but he remembered Pedersen very well. Alexander was the organizer of the event.
“I lived right around the corner from Gee [in Jersey City], so many times, I would ride to Prep with him,” Alexander said. “He was a bridge builder for me. He was my friend, my bridge, my caregiver. Once I took off that helmet and headed home, the only one I had was Jerome.”
Alexander believes that the event raised approximately $4,000 for the Jerome Pedersen Memorial Scholarship Fund.
“My goal is to raise the cost of one year tuition for a student,” Alexander said. “When we have days like Saturday, we can’t lose.”
So much so that the Second Annual Jerome Pedersen Football Classic is already scheduled for June 20, 2015.
“I was hoping this would become an annual thing,” Souder said. “Who better to honor than Gee?”
That was the sentiment felt all day last Saturday. The gridiron greats all came back to honor their fallen friend.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.