From the gridiron to the bright lights of Hollywood.
Former Ottumwa High standout football player Tanner Varner, who now plays for the San Jose Sabercats Arena football team; made his acting debut in “The Dark Knight Rises,” the final movie in the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman trilogy.
Appropriately, Varner played the role of a football player. The 2002 Ottumwa graduate plays a football player for the visiting Rapid City Monuments in their game against the Gotham Rogues. The game is filmed at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and features cameo roles by several members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, including Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace and Troy Polamalu. Former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher and former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward also appear in the film.
“We got to hang out with a bunch of them [Steelers players] and that was pretty neat,” Varner said.
In the movie scene, during a kickoff return by Ward, the stadium begins blowing up behind him — the explosions were set by the film’s villain, Bane.
The acting role came to Varner because of Pat O’Hara, the head coach the New Orleans’ Voodoo arena football team. Besides his coaching job, O’Hara also casts people for sports movies, Varner said.
“Most football scenes in movies are guys from the Arena Football League,” Varner said.
Though this was Varner’s first rodeo, he said he had a lot of gridiron buddies who played minor roles in the remake of the movie “The Longest Yard,” an Adam Sandler vehicle.
“It’s fun to get in there and say we were in the movies,” Varner said.
Though he doesn’t plan to pursue a movie career any time soon, Varner said he now has a better grasp of what goes into making a movie.
“It’s pretty precise,” he said. “A lot more than I thought goes into it.”
On the football field, Varner’s San Jose Sabercats will take on the Arizona Rattlers in a road game in the first round of the Arena League Playoffs Saturday. The Sabercats (12-6) swept the series, beating Arizona 71-70 in overtime at home and 77-70 in Phoenix.
After an illustrious career at the University of Northern Iowa, where he earned All-American honors, Varner — who plays in the defensive backfield and sometimes at linebacker — said it took a while to adjust to the offensive-minded indoor football league with it’s short 50-yard field and pass-heavy offenses.
“It’s a 95 percent passing game,” Varner said. “It’s a tough quick game, but very exciting for friends and fans.”
Varner, however, said, in the end, it’s still football. The Ottumwa native had one of the best rookie campaigns for a defender in league history in 2010 with the Iowa Barnstormers, earning first team All-Arena honors. He led the team with a league-rookie record 129.5 total tackles, intercepted eight passes, scored twice defensively and forced one fumble. He was acquired by San Jose in a trade with the Kansas City Command before this season.
From the gridiron to the bright lights of Hollywood.
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