Football Stars Turn Fundraising Champs for St. Jude

A team from hospital's hometown runs away with Touchdowns Against Cancer national title.

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Touchdowns Against Cancer

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The seeds were sown in study hall. They sprouted at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

It sounds more like a parable than a game plan for a football team to win a national championship. But as Lausanne Collegiate School teammates Isaac Weiss and Eric Gray approach high school graduation, they can look back and see that their senior year turned out just how they drew it up.

Lausanne, a Memphis private school and state football powerhouse, raised $21,627 for St. Jude to win the 2018 Touchdowns Against Cancer national championship. The Lynx, whose fundraising total beat the rest of the Top 5 schools combined, were led by seniors Weiss, one of the city’s top kickers, and Gray, a three-time winner of the Mr. Football award as the state's top player in his classification.

Eric Gray

Eric Gray

“Being a good football player is half of you,” said Gray, who decided to dedicate his season to St. Jude after a study-hall conversation with Weiss. “You’ve also got to be a good person.”

Gray’s 41 touchdowns last season raised $3,851. Weiss’s kicks accounted for 75 points for Lausanne and $12,306 for St. Jude. The teammates were featured during a pre-game segment on THE NFL TODAY on CBS. 

As Weiss wrote on his “Isaac’s Kicks Against Cancer” fundraising page, “Cancer has touched all of our lives in some way, and I want to make each point that I score count toward something bigger than a win.”

Touchdowns Against Cancer is a national fundraising program in which St. Jude partners with MaxPreps, a website covering high school sports, and Pledge It, a sports fundraising site. Money is raised when donors pledge a specific amount per touchdown — or field goal and extra point, in Weiss’s case — or by making a one-time donation.

Nationally, some 4,800 touchdowns and 1,200 pledgers this season resulted in a donation to St. Jude of $125,726. That brings the cumulative total to more than $300,000 for St. Jude since Touchdowns Against Cancer started in 2016.

Generosity is a given at Lausanne, where students are required to complete a service project as part of the PK-12 school’s Creativity, Action and Service Program.

“Basically, my thought process is, this could be my last year playing football,” Weiss said. “No one’s going to remember a high school career playing football, but doing something like Touchdowns Against Cancer and Pledge It, really lets me leave something after I’m done.”

Isaac Weiss

Isaac Weiss

Weiss said he was exploring other fundraising programs when a friend of his father mentioned Touchdowns Against Cancer, in which he could raise money for a hometown hospital that he’d visited as a sophomore.

“That was a big part of it, yes,” Weiss said. “Because every hospital does great things, but I wanted to support a hospital that my community and I have a personal connection with. I know a lot about it, and I’ve toured it before. So I just knew this is what I wanted to choose.”

As they hoisted the Touchdowns Against Cancer trophy during a visit to the St. Jude campus, the Lynx had an 8-0 record and No. 1 state ranking. They’d won 35 straight games overall — a streak that began with Weiss’s debut as the team’s kicker. They streak eventually reached 38 games before they lost in the state playoff semifinals. The previous two seasons the Lynx won the state title.

Touchdowns Against Cancer

Lausanne coach and athletic director Kevin Locastro remembers when Weiss was a “little, scrawny ninth-grader who came and said he wanted to kick.” Now he’s a senior, a leader on the team and in the classroom with a 3.9 GPA.

Gray, meanwhile, was identified at a young age as a potential football star — he had college offers from Miami, Mississippi State and Colorado before he started high school. He was rated the No. 1 all-purpose college prospect by one recruiting service, and committed to Michigan before eventually signing with Tennessee.

“He does a good job of keeping everything into perspective,” Locastro said. “That’s one reason why I love coaching him so much. It’s not a mystery he’s the best player on our football team. But he’s also our best worker. He’s our best practice guy.”

And off the field? Gray has a 3.4 GPA, Locastro says, and tutors fifth graders in math at Lausanne.

“They’re leaders, obviously, within our football program. But they’re leaders within our school community,” he said of the senior teammates and national champs. “Neither one of them has a shy bone in his body. They’re kids who have really good heads on their shoulders, they come up with good ideas and good concepts and they’re not scared to execute them.”

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