Texas loves its football on Friday nights, and a new movie opening Friday in the Lone Star State shows the game as it was played by a group of orphans.
It's a true story based in Fort Worth when the hard-hitting game mirrored the tough times and a scrappy group of boys captured the nation's attention.
"He was just a mean son of a gun, and so getting to play that and attempt to portray that was difficult but really fun," said Jake Austin Walker, one of the actors cast in "12 Mighty Orphans."
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The film tells the story of the Mighty Mites, the football team of a Fort Worth orphanage who, during the great depression, went from playing without shoes - or even a football - to playing for a state championship.
And in the process, the 12 orphans inspired the country.
"I think what we found was the heart of the movie which was to believe in yourself, believe in each other as a team and you can overcome great obstacles," said co-screenwriter and actor Lane Garrison.
Fort Worth hosted the world premiere, and actors up and down the red carpet described a movie more about grit than gridiron.
"Football really is the backdrop for the story. It's really about teamwork and family and working together and overcoming obstacles and hardship," said Dallas native Luke Wilson, who stars as the team's legendary coach Rusty Russell.
Vinessa Shaw plays his wife, Juanita Russell.
"It's a movie about hope, turning poison into medicine, creating something out of nothing and about family and basically, reminding yourself about the goodness in your heart and helping others," Shaw said.
The cast boasts legendary actors Martin Sheen as the orphanage's doctor and Robert Duvall in a cameo role as a financier.
"We had a mini- "Apocalypse Now" reunion with Martin Sheen and Robert Duvall, which for film buffs was a crazy, awesome day," said producer Michael De Luca.
Duvall, who portrays Mason Hawk, wasn't about to miss joining friends for the premiere at the historic Isis Theater in Cowtown.
"I'm looking forward to it. I enjoyed doing it very much," he said.
That enjoyment included the 12 young men who played the orphans. Nine of whom are local.
"They did an amazing job, and it's always fun when you can find new talent and create new movie stars. and I think they all crushed it," De Luca said.
"I was gearing up to go to college before I received a message from my agent that this small little film was coming to town. And so, I was fortunate enough to get an audition, and then another came and another one came and after my third, I got the part," said Argyle native Slade Monroe, who portrays Wheatie.
A few had acting experience but none had any real football sense.
"Whenever I was at Super Bowls, I was like, 'who do we route for here? Oh, great.' That was me. But after playing this, I can say I know about 10% more football," smiled Walker.
Garrison, who helped write the script, portrays rival coach Luther Scarborough and a Texas native who grew up playing football. He described what happened to one of the actors at a football camp two weeks before filming started.
"The ball hit him off the head and he fell down, and I thought, 'we're toast.' These guys, not one of them could play ball. And it bonded them. Neither could the Mites. They learned through this process," Garrison said.
"When we were shooting this, everything they kept saying to us was, you're going to have to remember, these kids, the gear they had was nothing, it was leather," said Walker. He stars as the hard-hitting Hardy Brown who got into the character "by doing a lot of your own stunts, by taking those hits and starting to realize just how heavy-hitting these kids were at this time, too," he said.
"Playing football? It was something. All that leather. It's not exactly the funnest thing in the world but we got it done and had a good time," said Weatherford native Preston Porter, who plays Dewitt.
The film was shot in and around Fort Worth before the pandemic. When theaters closed, the cast and crew wondered whether the movie would ever be released.
All agree that now is the perfect time to share the inspiration from a team of boys who had nothing but found everything in each other.
"It tugs at your heartstrings. It does all the right things, and you're rooting for the underdog," Walker said.
"It's about overcoming the odds when you believe in yourself, pick yourself back up, and you can achieve the impossible and that's the American spirit. And that was the spirit of the Mighty Mites," Garrison said.
The "12 Mighty Orphans" film was based on the 2008 bestseller from sportswriter Jim Dent. The film opens in Texas on June 11 and nationwide Friday, June 18.