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We Are...Movie Stars

Hollywood film descends on Marshall campus

Posted: Tuesday April 11, 2006 11:06AM; Updated: Friday April 14, 2006 12:01PM
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The Walk-On
Matt Haught is a junior print journalism major at Marshall University and is a reporter for the university newspaper, "The Parthenon."

Marshall student Mark Patton was cast in the movie alongside Matthew McConaughey.
Marshall student Mark Patton was cast in the movie alongside Matthew McConaughey.
Matt Riley/Marshall Sports Information

By Matt Haught

HUNTINGTON W.Va. - The story is one of tragedy and triumph, of pain and recovery, of wins and losses, but not defeat. It is the story of the Young Thundering Herd, the 1971 Marshall University football team after the plane crash that killed the 1970 squad and some of its supporters. It is the subject for McG's newest film, We Are Marshall.

The movie stars Matthew McConaughey as coach Jack Lengyel, and Matthew Fox as assistant coach Red Dawson. Academy Award nominee David Strathairn will portray Marshall president Donald Dedmon.

With the shooting of the film taking over the region, many students are excited. Connie Boggs, a junior from Fairmont, W.Va., said having the stars on campus has made for some interesting scenarios. Boggs went to the filming kickoff party on April 1 to get a few photos, especially of McConaughey. "It is very thrilling to see the makings of a movie firsthand and to see the stars in person," she said.

An open scene is planned for Monday where all students can participate in the action. Some will perform the "We Are ... Marshall" cheer from which the movie takes its name. The film, however, is not entirely about football. It is a story about how a community was rebuilt after tragedy.

"I knew we had something when I let people read the script," said producer Basil Iwanyk. "We had sports fans and not sports fans. We had men. We had women. We had young. We had old. We had people of different races and of different sexual orientations and everyone cried. Not just one or two - everyone. These are people who didn't know anything about Marshall. They were just so swept up in the story."

Students are being used as extras, and Matt Gajtka, a junior from Weirton, W.Va, portrayed a member of the 1971 Young Thundering Herd. In his scene, the new team is encouraged by Coach Lengyel to carry on the legacy of those who had died in the crash.

"When we came together after coach finished his speech, I felt ready to take the field," Gajtka said. "The feeling was just surreal."

Fitting, because the program's success is surreal, as well. After the entire program was lost in 1970, Marshall won the Division 1-AA national championship in 1992 and 1996. The Herd moved to Division I-A in 1997 and finished the 1999 season ranked No. 10 in the nation.

This kind of triumph is what McG said he wants to show with the movie. "This story is great as it is," he said. "I don't want to add Hollywood to it."

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