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May 23, 2006

Blockbuster season prompts casting call

The arrival of summer blockbuster season at local multiplexes made us plan our own casting call.

We wanted to know what real-life college athletes best fit the fictional and real-life characters who have appeared in some prominent football and basketball movies.

Who would "Blue Chips" coach Pete Bell turn to if he had to put together an all-star roster that didn't include Shaquille O'Neal or Penny Hardaway?

Which recent college quarterback made us think of Jonathan Moxon from "Varsity Blues" or Mike Winchell of "Friday Night Lights" fame?

And who is this generation's Rudy Ruettiger?

After watching a week's worth of sports films, we think we've found our matches. As you look at our cast, you'll see the similarities we found between our real-life athletes and their counterparts on the silver screen.

Movie character: RB Darnell Jefferson (played by Omar Epps): This brash freshman overcame a preseason fumbling problem to emerge as the starting tailback for fictional Eastern State University.
Real-life counterpart: RB Arian Foster, Tennessee: Foster also had trouble holding on to the ball before recovering fast enough to rush for 879 yards and score five touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last fall.
Movie character: QB Joe Kane (Craig Sheffer): This Heisman Trophy contender was trying to lead Eastern State to a bowl after two consecutive disappointing seasons. He had an early season showdown with a Heisman-contending quarterback from another school.
Real-life counterpart: QB Drew Stanton, Michigan State: This Academic All-America quarterback isn't battling the same off-field demons Kane encountered in the film, but Stanton's football situation is similar. He also is a star quarterback trying to lead his team to a bowl after two consecutive losing seasons. Michigan State's schedule also gives Stanton an early showdown with a Heisman-contending quarterback from a rival school (Brady Quinn).
Movie character: QB Jonathan Moxon (James Van Der Beek): Moxon cared so much more about academics than athletics that he was shown reading a book on the sideline. He became the starting quarterback at West Canaan (Texas) High after replacing injured Florida State recruit Lance Harbor. He never played football again after the end of the season.
Real-life counterpart: QB Matt Flynn, LSU: Flynn played high school football in Texas and led LSU to the Peach Bowl title after an injury to highly regarded starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Flynn, a communications studies major, made the Southeastern Conference's fall academic honor roll.
Movie character: QB Lance Harbor (Paul Walker): This Florida State recruit injured his knee during his senior season at West Canaan (Texas) High. He coached the team during the second half of a comeback victory in the climactic scene after a player mutiny left head coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight) in the locker room.
Real-life counterpart: Offensive coordinator Rob Ambrose, Connecticut: He played quarterback and wide receiver at Towson State before suffering a career-ending injury in the spring of 1982. Ambrose served as a student assistant coach his senior year at Towson before going on to pursue a coaching career.
Movie character: Guard Butch McRae (Penny Hardaway): This Chicago high school star was the hottest point-guard prospect in his class when he decided to travel halfway across the country to play at Western University.
Real-life counterpart: Guard J.P. Prince, Arizona: Prince also plays college basketball near the West Coast and was one of the top point-guard prospects in his recruiting class, but he doesn't resemble McRae as much as the actor who portrayed him. Prince and Hardaway have the same hometown (Memphis), and they're virtually the same height (Prince is 6-foot-6 and Hardaway is 6-7).
Movie character: F Ricky Roe (Matt Nover): Nover, a former Indiana basketball player, portrayed a 6-foot-8 high school All-America forward from French Lick, Indiana.
Real-life counterpart: G Anthony Winchester, Western Kentucky: He's a 6-foot-4 guard instead of a 6-8 forward, but Winchester otherwise is a carbon copy of Roe. Winchester averaged 34.7 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists his senior year at Austin High - located about 60 miles from French Lick - before graduating as the 10th-leading scorer in Indiana history with 2,256 points. He averaged 18.6 points per game this season as one of the nation's top midmajor players. Movie character: C Neon Bodeaux (Shaquille O'Neal): This extremely raw, large and athletic center from rural Louisiana made an instant impact at Western University.
Real-life counterpart: C Glen Davis, LSU: He has the same type of physique as Bodeaux and plays for Shaq's alma mater. That makes Davis the obvious choice here.
Movie character: DB Brian Chavez (Jay Hernandez): This star defensive back in the movie he played tight end in real life - went on to graduate from Harvard and now works as a criminal lawyer in Odessa. In the movie, he helps Permian High reach the state final, though the actual team suffered a state semifinal loss.
Real-life counterpart: SS Will Meyers, Indiana: He earned Academic All-America honors and ranked second on the team with 64 tackles as a junior last fall.
Movie character: QB Mike Winchell (Lucas Black): He uses guts to compensate for his lack of size while helping lead Permian to the state final. In real life, Winchell threw for 1,938 yards and 24 touchdowns his senior year.
Real-life counterpart: QB Drew Tate, Iowa: This 6-footer set Texas high school records for completions, attempts, passing yards and touchdown passes at Robert E. Lee High in Baytown, Texas. He went on to throw for 2,828 yards and 22 touchdowns as an Iowa senior last fall.
Movie character: Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Astin): This undersized walk-on worked his way into Notre Dame, then served as practice fodder for years before finally getting in a game for the last play of the last game of his senior season.

Real-life counterpart: LS Ross Abramson, Miami: Although he hadn't played football since his freshman year of high school, Abramson asked Miami coaches for a tryout and won a job as Miami's main long snapper for field goals and extra points midway through last season. Abramson's heartwarming story has even earned him the nickname "Rudy" from teammates.

Movie character: Jimmy Chitwood: He was the star player and leading scorer of the Hickory team that wins an Indiana state championship. Chitwood made the winning shot in the state final.

Real-life counterpart: G Kevin Criswell, Montana: He's a Montana high school legend averaging 33.5 points per game his senior year who still got no Division I scholarship offers because he was a 6-foot-2 kid from Montana. Criswell walked on at Montana and became one of the five leading scorers in school history while leading the Grizzlies to the NCAA tournament.

Movie character: Stefen Djordjevic (Tom Cruise): This hard-hitting Catholic defensive back overcame his lack of size with his nose for the ball. Scored a defensive touchdown to give his team a late lead in its biggest game of the season.

Real-life counterpart: SS Tom Zbikowski, Notre Dame: Zbikowski was much more highly recruited than Djordjevic, who had to fight for a scholarship after a late-season dispute with his high school coach. But they otherwise have plenty in common. As a defensive back at the nation's best-known Catholic university, Zbikowski scored four touchdowns on defense and special teams last season. Zbikowski and Djordjevic even look relatively similar. And they both have very difficult names to pronounce.

Movie character: QB Paul Blake (Scott Bakula): Blake went back to school at the age of 34 and won a job as Texas State's starting quarterback.

Real-life counterpart: QB John Beck, Brigham Young: Beck graduated from high school in 1999 and will be 25 years old when the Cougars start the 2006 season. He went on a Mormon mission to Lisbon, Portugal, before beginning his college career.

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