After more than 50 years of waiting, an unlikely, motley crew of undersized young men from various cultures and backgrounds took Abilene all the way to the state high school football championship in 2009. Now a feature film is in the works starring Laurence Fishburne, and based on the book “Brother’s Keeper,” co-written by Chad Mitchell. He was the chaplain for the 2009 Abilene Eagles.
“There were so many critics but they never doubted themselves,” says Mitchell. “They played bigger than they were. Obviously they have hearts, I would say, as big as Texas. Those guys believed in each other, they didn’t doubt, they had a tremendous amount of accountability among each other. And loved each other.”
Mitchell’s role as chaplain gave him particular insight into the team’s journey to state championship. “It’s not just your typical football movie, it’s got an incredibly positive spin,” he says. “The beauty about sports is that it really brings all walks of life together, all different races, all different economic statuses together. And so there’s so many of those back stories.”
Many of the players have difficult home lives. “Whether it’s a mom getting put away in prison and can’t be at the game, or just struggles with the street, or whatever it might be, these guys overcame a whole lot for that season.”
It’s Mitchell’s 19th year as chaplain, and he’s not surprised the team’s story struck a chord and is now become a movie.
“The kids that were incredibly talented didn’t act like they’re rockstars or anything like that,” he says. “They really played for each other. There’s times where a play would be called for the running back and the running back would call of getting the ball and give it to the backup running back. And there’s a lot of those things that people don’t know that happened that season.”
Some of Mitchell’s own story is also explored in the film. In addition to being chaplain for the team, he pastors a church in the inner city and does a lot of outreach with Abilene’s impoverished communities.
In the movie, he’ll be played by Mel Gibson’s son Milo, who Mitchell says has “just been absolutely incredible to work with.” Though they haven’t met in person, they’ve spoken extensively. “It was definitely awkward on all the video calls, him staring at you, watching my mannerisms and stuff like that. But I’m started to get some footage each day from the actual set. It’s really impressive.”
And how’s all the new attention treating Mitchell? “It really hasn’t changed much. I believe in just being humble and God blesses you as you do life and continue to show kindness to people.”
He’s already well-known in the city because of his outreach work, “but more importantly I just hope people capture the story because, more than anything, I believe that this story will help inspire the world just about how much better would this world will become if we become our brother’s keeper. And regardless of race or economic status or whatever, we truly come together and love one another. And that’s the emphasis of the whole entire movie, the story.”
While some indoor scenes are currently being shot in Minnesota, most of the football scenes will be shot on location in Abilene later this summer.
Written by Rachel Taube.