St. George to host film production for football team biopic

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St. George is about to become San Francisco, and this year it will be 1951.

A forgotten historic sports story is being revealed on the big screen. “The Dons”  is a movie based on the 1951 University of San Francisco football team,  which lost funding for its football program. 

The year the university lost its funding was also the year its team, the Dons, played undefeated and took eight players to the NFL.

At the end of its season, the Dons had a chance to play at the Orange Bowl for the National Championship, but in order for that to happen, the team had to leave its black players behind.

The San Francisco football players made the decision not to go, costing them a chance to save the football program and to go to the National Championship.

“The story has been talked about quite a bit,” said Tony Beatty, a senior communication major from Hurricane. “Sports Illustrated has done an article on it. Quite a bit of people in sports journalism have heard this great story.”

The University of San Francisco organized a production company called Team 51 LLC for the purpose of producing this film.

“The executive producer attached to that production  called me about participating because he knows about my career at NFL Films,” said Phil Tuckett, assistant professor of communication. “From those initial discussions we were able to develop a production plan.”

Tuckett said the production team has financing and assets targeted for development of the idea. With that money, the team has written a script and hired professionals to be on the production crew.

Tuckett was able to recruit several producers from Salt Lake City to advise the team and come to St. George to get their production office set up. 

So far students have  primarily taken the responsibility of preparing the production.

“We have made a great deal of progress,” Tuckett said. “Now we are to the point where we are waiting for full funding for the movie. We have several interested parties to do that.”

Tuckett said in early April the team will have the money it needs to begin pre-production, which includes building sets.

The city has leased the team a hangar at the old airport.

“The hangar is the same configuration as a film studio would be,” Tuckett said. “The one that the city has leased us is 14,000 square feet of open space…with 40-foot ceilings.”

Right now the students are designing some of the sets Team 51 will need.

“I have convinced the people at Team 51 LLC  that the movie could be shot here in St. George, even though it took place in San Francisco,” Tuckett said. “We are using the Sun Bowl, the local rodeo grounds, as a double for Kezar Stadium, which is where [the team] played in San Francisco.”

He said they have already conducted auditions for the football playing extras.

The football extras consist of people who have actually played football, and most come from local high schools and DSU.

Tuckett said producers have been in contact with professional actors about their interest in the project. 

He said two famous actors who anyone would be familiar with have shown interest, but he cannot reveal who until they have a signed contract.

Casting calls for more spots in the production are taking place at Pine View High School on April 4 and 5 at the football field.   

Auditions will be open for anyone.

Filming will go all the way through the summer, and editing will start next fall.