- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Auburn University senior Laney Payne searched the faces of three Beauregard High School students as they watched themselves appear, one by one, on screen.

Payne premiered her 17-minute documentary, “Halftime Heroes: Coaching Beyond the X’s and O’s,” at Pebble Hill Monday evening to a teary-eyed crowd that spilled into the hallway. The film follows three Beauregard High athletes and the father figures they have found in their coaches.

“I was watching the kids watch it,” said Payne, a psychology major minoring in community and civic engagement. “The whole time I’m making it, I’m remembering who I’m making it for.”

The film is a project for Payne’s community and civic engagement senior capstone course. Her younger brother, who she watched mature through relationships with football coaches, inspired the documentary.

“I was raised in a fatherless home with my mom and three sisters and a little brother,” the Georgia native said. “Immediately, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.”

Radio, television and film senior Charlie Harper filmed and edited more than eight hours of footage taken over 12 days during football season. Harper said the film began as a five-minute mini-documentary.

“After we went to one football game, I realized there was a real story here,” Harper said.

Beauregard senior defensive lineman Justin Greathouse grew up without a father, but formed a close bond with assistant coach Steven Drakeford, which was featured in the documentary.

“It’s awesome. I want to keep watching it over and over,” he said after seeing the film for the first time. “I’ve never experienced something in my life where I can smile this much.”

Greathouse hopes other people in similar situations will find encouragement in the documentary.

“They’ll know that they’re not alone,” he said. “There’s always someone there to help you.”

Greathouse’s teammate, senior running back Nykel Mitchell, agreed. He hopes his relationship with coach Wade Thorn will inspire others.

“It’s life changing,” he said. “I just feel proud I can share my story.”

Thorn described his role in Mitchell’s life not as filling a void, but filling a responsibility.

“He knows my door is open, whatever he needs,” Thorn said. “.You remember those people in your life.”

But the relationship between Alexxis Miler, a junior on the track team, and coach Rob Carter is “a different connection,” Carter said.

“I can’t explain it. Get around us enough, and you’ll see,” he said. “She’s one of us, . just like family.”

Miler said the bond was unusual at first because Carter is “a guy coach.” But it did not take long before Miler saw him more as a father and friend.

“He does everything, just like a father should,” she explained. “When I need things, he’s always there. And when I’m going through things at home, he’s always there.”

Although some of the film’s six subjects cried on screen, and emotion welled in many audience members, Payne said the documentary is not about something missing. It’s about something gained.

“To take something that’s negative and to have something created,” she said. “Celebrating it and what it’s become.”

Online: https://www.vimeo.com/charlieharper


Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, https://www.oanow.com/

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