- Associated Press - Thursday, August 21, 2014

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - Riley Howard said from the time he was a small child growing up in Decatur, he told friends he wanted to be in the movies and on television.

But the 2009 Austin High School graduate, who played football and baseball for the Black Bears, never appeared in school plays or pursued acting in any form until he responded to an online audition for a football film.

“They needed 35 players, and I was one of about 1,500 people who showed up at a high school in Chalmette, Louisiana, to give it a shot,” Howard said. “There were about 500 receivers and defensive backs, all of whom had played football in college or in the NFL. I was lucky to be among six or seven from that group selected.”

He doesn’t have a speaking role, but when the film, “When the Game Stands Tall,” opens nationwide Friday, friends should be able to spot Howard in locker room close-ups and getting whacked with “killer hits.”

Most importantly, because of such licks, Howard and two other players were permitted to sign stunt contracts and join the Screen Actors Guild. In the movie credits, most of the players are listed as stunt men.

“We had to run some plays as many as 25 or 30 times to get them right, and it was 100 percent real,” he said. “During a 12-hour shoot, they usually had six to seven plays they wanted to get, but we usually ran only three or four.”

The film stars Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis, Alexander Ludwig, Laura Dean and Clancy Brown.

The movie, filmed at several high schools in the New Orleans area, traces the journey of legendary football coach Bob Ladouceur. He led the De La Salle High School Spartans in Concord, California, from obscurity to a 151-game winning streak that shattered all records for any American sport. The streak spans the 1992 to 2004 seasons, more than doubling the previous record of 72.

Caviezel portrays Ladouceur, and Dean his wife, Bev. Chiklis stars as assistant coach Terry Eidson. Ludwig appears as a fictional character, but one who depicts what a Spartan player represents on and off the field.

Howard, 23, a wide receiver in football and catcher in baseball, had scholarships in both sports at Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee. He left after two years because he knew the school was closing and enrolled at Troy University, where he walked on as a football candidate. He gave up the sport to work at two different jobs in Troy.

It was while at Troy he saw the movie audition on the Internet. He vividly recalls the date he launched the start of a dream he hopes looms larger in the future.

“I went to Chalmette on Monday, April 10, 2013, and interviewed with Allan Graf, an actor, second unit director and stunt coordinator,” Howard said. “I drove back to Troy for class and work.”

Graf, an offensive guard on the undefeated 1972 national championship Southern Cal team, has worked on numerous films, including “Any Given Sunday,” ”Friday Night Lights,” ”42,” ”We Were Soldiers” and “Jerry McGuire.”

Howard returned to Chalmette that Wednesday and did drills and ran, and afterward it was back to Troy. That Friday, he wheeled into Chalmette once more to play 7-on-7 football and do one-on-one drills.

“I kept telling myself over and over during the tryouts, ‘I don’t want to go home,’ ” Howard said. “That mindset was a big boost.”

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