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'Keeping the faith': New film shows how legendary football coach transformed the lives of Orphans

12 Mighty Orphans
Actors pose for a team photo for the film "12 Mighty Orphans." |

The new inspirational film “12 Mighty Orphans” from Sony Pictures Classics released just in time for Father’s Day tells the true story of a group of orphans who are led by a faith-filled football coach who helps them defy the odds during one of the most difficult times in American history.

12 Mighty Orphans” tells the real-life story of the Mighty Mites, a football team from a Fort Worth, Texas, orphanage during the Great Depression. According to the synopsis, the team "went from playing without shoes — or even a football — to playing for the Texas state championships."

12 Mighty Orphans
Movie poster for "12 Mighty Orphans" which opens nationwide June 18, 2021 |

"Really the heart of the story is having an impact on kids and how to guide and mentor them and prepare them for the world, prepare them for success and teach them discipline and teamwork and all that stuff that football and sports teaches you amongst other things,” the film’s director, Ty Roberts, told The Christian Post in a video interview that can be seen below.

“12 Mighty Orphans,” will be released nationwide on June 18, and in Texas starting June 11.

The film features Hollywood star Luke Wilson as the coach, Rusty Russell. The film also stars Martin Sheen, Wayne Knight, Vinessa Shaw and Robert Duvall among others.

Roberts is also co-writer of the film along with Lane Garrison and Kevin Meyer. The story was adapted from Jim Dent’s bestselling book of the same title. 

"I think the basis of everything that Rusty Russell endures in his life is based on keeping the faith and just really being self-motivated and trust that his life is gonna come together as he dreams it to be,” Roberts told CP.

Russell is the coach that changed the lives of young men who were orphaned during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

He left a prominent position as a head coach at a well-endowed high school that was a state championship contender to go help the boys at Masonic home orphanage with his wife, Juanita. Together they dedicated their lives to start an educational and football program that would lead to the success of many kids they impacted while there. 

“Rusty was a fighter. He was an orphan himself and was a product of a broken home, and a war one,” Roberts explained. “He knew what it took to survive so he had built that faith early on in his life and learned how to believe. Sometimes you have to remind others [to] just keep going and to believe.”

The director said he also lives his life in that manner with his wife and kids.

"We just have to find that self-motivation in order to get through life sometimes and we need mentors and parents and friends to tell us every once in a while,” he continued. “I think the movie really does that. I hope it'll inspire folks and lift their spirits a little bit to go out and pursue their own wildest dreams.”

In the movie, which features some foul language, Russell encourages the adults in the orphanage to have “faith in the boys like David vs Goliath” as they began to develop their football skills. Roberts said quotes such as that one are instrumental in helping to empower people to defy the odds.

"You just have to believe in something," he said. "Not only were the boys in the shadow of a much physically larger team, but they had to get creative on how they were going to approach the strategy."

Growing up in an Episcopal School, Roberts said stories like David and Goliath "really impacted me growing up."

"[T]hinking about it, if you get creative and thoughtful, you can come out and persevere,” he said. 

"They might not have done it on the first game, but Rusty Russell realized, 'Okay, we are David. We are small, we need to really think about how we're going to compete against these bigger teams.'"

Russell got "very innovative" with his coaching and game strategy by developing the wing-T in the spread offense

"[H]is small, scrawny, scrappy boys became fast receivers and quick on the line, and they shifted, and they moved, and they did things that no other teams were really doing at that time," Roberts explained. 

Roberts said King David of the Bible came out and battled the giant with “accuracy and quickness” and was able to send the slingshot right where it needed to go. They chose to use that line in the film in a “metaphorical” way.

"I thought it was a great analogy,” Roberts concluded.

“[Believe] in yourself. You can't do it without that. Obviously, if you walk out there and think you are going to lose, you're going to lose.”

Each member of the Might Mites went on to achieve success because of Russell’s influence in their lives. Some went on to the NFL, others became war heroes as well as professors and doctors.

Visit “12 Mighty Orphans” website for additional information. 

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