Kyle Chase Johnson woke up in his Downtown apartment early Sunday morning ready to run the half marathon, a year after graduating from Penn State University.
He ran the same race in New York City a couple months ago.
He drank a few raw eggs and joked to his roommate: "I'm going to be like Rocky today," noting that the eggs were "actually pretty disgusting."
His new roommate, Alex Calder, said nothing seemed off about Mr. Johnson, a friend since the fourth grade.
But just a couple hours later, friends and family would get a heart-wrenching phone call: Mr. Johnson, 23, collapsed during the race and was being transported to UPMC Mercy.
By the time Mr. Calder got to the hospital, his friend was dead.
Friends, family, teammates and former football coaches all described Mr. Johnson in remarkably similar terms. They say he was funny, smart, ambitious and the kind of guy you call if you're ever in trouble.
"He's somebody you could always depend on," Mr. Calder said. "If I ever needed somebody, he'd be the first person I'd call -- and I'm not alone in that."
His mother, Mary Beth Deal, said he "was on top of the world" because he had secured an accounting job at Deloitte & Touche and had just moved to a Downtown apartment.
"He was a wonderful, wonderful son. He loved to read, he was smart, he was kind and handsome," Ms. Deal, of Franklin Park, said. "He was an athletic person. There was no reason this should have happened."
Pittsburgh public safety director Michael Huss said at a news conference that he collapsed near paramedics at the 12-mile mark near Duquesne University. An autopsy will be performed today.
Mr. Johnson was a Lion Ambassador at Penn State, a student group that gives campus tours and was always up for a beer, a Pirates game or discussing local politics, Mr. Calder said.
They would talk about everything from sports to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's initiatives to make Pittsburgh more bike-friendly.
After the race, Mr. Johnson planned to celebrate at his apartment with family and friends. Mr. Calder said his friend had picked up a margarita maker and a skillet and was excited to make pancakes and throw a party.
A football player at North Allegheny High School, Mr. Johnson played a notoriously undervalued position on the interior defensive line -- but getting noticed on the field wasn't what mattered to him.
"The only people who get less notoriety is interior offensive line," said North Allegheny assistant coach John Haddad.
"I don't think he cared. What was important to him was the opportunity to help the team be successful. In terms of a lineman, he didn't have great size, and wasn't as naturally gifted as others. But he made up for it with his determination, with his work ethic."
Mike Buchert, a North Allegheny assistant football coach since 1987, said this is the second death of an alumnus of the football program in less than two months, noting Marek Lapinski died during routine surgery to get his wisdom teeth removed in March.
"Any time you have a person that young die, it's a tragedy," Mr. Buchert said. "They're both very tough to swallow."
Alex Zimmerman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3909. First Published May 6, 2013 12:00 AM