Sept. 7, 2007
By Bucky Berlin
In a world where athletics have become integral to the foundations of our lives, there is nothing better than the stories about underdog players overcoming impossible odds, misfit teams winning titles, and the incredible bonding that comes from playing, learning, and competing with others. Hence, movies like “Remember the Titans,” “Rudy,” “Invincible,” and “Friday Night Lights” are prized insights into the real-life experiences of football players who do amazing things on and off the football field.
A similar story can be told about a former Tiger walk-on who realized his dream to run down the Hill, and he would years later be cast in a movie highlighting the early days of football in America. The experience would parallel the camaraderie and real life lessons of being a team athlete.
Fletcher Anderson did not begin playing football until his sophomore year at Lexington (SC) High School, reigning in the first-team placekicking duties his senior season.
“I had a pretty good senior year and made all-state,” said Anderson, who also merited a Shrine Bowl invitation, where he received some attention from college scouts.
However, the exposure would prove to be inconsequential.
“I didn’t really want to go anywhere but Clemson,” recalled Anderson. “It didn’t matter to me if other people got interested because I just wanted to run down the Hill one day.”
Anderson followed his dream and walked on to Clemson’s football team as an insurance policy for scholarship signee Aaron Hunt. He would lay in wait for four seasons as Hunt’s backup, waiting for his chance at glory, much like “Rudy,” the true-story account of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who dreamt of playing football at Notre Dame. The movie happened to be one of Anderson’s favorite movies growing up.
Promoted to the travel squad his senior year as a backup holder and placekicker, opportunity would knock on his door in the Tigers’ trouncing of South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 22, 2003. On third down with 3:28 left in the fourth quarter, Chansi Stuckey made a 33-yard dash for the endzone to put the Tigers up 62-17. Anderson got the call to kick the extra point.
“It’s funny because if Chansi had not scored the last touchdown, I wouldn’t have ever gotten to kick,” said Anderson. “He didn’t just get the first down, he scored and took two guys into the endzone on his back.”
Clemson’s 63rd and final point in that victory will always be accredited to Anderson, his first and only appearance in a Tiger game after four years on the squad.
Little did he know another opportunity at stardom would come just a few years later with the filming of the movie “Leatherheads” in the Upstate. The movie, directed, co-written, and co-starred by George Clooney, would be a quick-witted romantic comedy set against the backdrop of America’s pro-football league in 1925. Anderson heard about the casting of extras for the filming of “Leatherheads” in early 2007 and naturally responded. It will be released on December 7.
“I first heard about it when somebody forwarded the email to all the Tiger letterwinners,” said Anderson. “They were looking for people of a certain height and weight with football experience. Oddly enough, it’s always been a little goal of mine to be in a movie as a football player. So I went out there to the casting call and they gave you a number, took a picture of you, and you wrote down your football experience. They called back 200 of the 1,200 that showed up for a football tryout at Furman.”
Anderson was surprised, at first, at his selection to be in the movie. “I thought I had a really bad tryout,” he admitted. “The drills were awkward and I felt like I did very poorly. But they did do punting at the end of the first day and I did pretty well. So that was probably the only reason I made it, but I didn’t end up doing any punting or kicking in the movie.”
After his selection as an extra, and he had a few days of practice and rehearsal, filming got underway in mid-February near Tigerville, SC. Most of the filming days that Anderson participated in lasted up to 12 hours with countless retakes to obtain perfect shots.
“Filming a movie, there’s a lot of hurry up and wait,” stated Anderson. “You might do one take, and then they’ve got to set the cameras up for the next take. It could take 30 minutes.”
He also participated in filming at Ware Shoals and Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, NC, which, ironically enough, is where he played in the Shrine Bowl as a senior in high school. A few of the other players that were cast as extras had college playing experience, but most had only played football in high school. It was enough to bring back memories.
“I thought the neatest thing was that by the end of it, it felt like being on a football team again, because a lot of the guys that were on the same teams that I was, we spent a lot of time together, so you got to know each other and bond a little.”
There was a bit of a learning curve for all players involved, as the style of game played in the 1920s is slightly different than contemporary football. There were no hashmarks on the field at that time, so when a ball went out of bounds, the next play was run next to the sidelines. An incomplete pass in the endzone would also result in a turnover, and the majority of the running out of the backfield would push to the right. Not to mention that the size of the players at the time was much more average.
“It was different being out there and being the same size as everybody else,” smiled Anderson. “Today at Clemson, I would be 150 pounds short of Barry Richardson.”
Other differences in game-style and technique will look very different to audiences according to Anderson, but it should provide an in-depth glance into the origins of America’s prized game. With most of the players at the time having been blue-collar workers in coal mines and factories, Anderson spent his share of time filming fight scenes.
“The toughest thing was the fighting, because you’d fight 20 or 30 seconds a take, over and over, and you’d get tired,” he said.
Anderson was highly impressed with the attention to detail in filming and with the interactions of the film’s celebrities with other actors. “Most all of them that I came in contact with were real nice guys, just real personable and easy-going.
“Clooney was pretty laid back, had fun, and made jokes. He wanted to get the right shots that he wanted to get, but that’s because he’s a good director. You can tell that he’s good at what he does.”
The film also features John Krasinski, Renée Zellweger, Stephen Root, and Wayne Duvall.
When asked about his future in film, Anderson did not seem too convinced that he would be in another movie anytime soon. Currently the owner and principal agent of an insurance agency near Clemson, he plans to keep rooting for the Tigers and selling more insurance. Having the opportunity to get back into a football uniform brought back plenty of memories from his days as a player for Clemson.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything; it was a great experience,” reflected Anderson. “It’s done more for me to teach me about life, business, and perseverance than anything else. A lot of other people I see doing the same thing I’m doing in insurance allow things to bother them too much, but if you’ve ever been a walk-on on a Division I football program, you’ve been through it; you’ve been walked on and everything else. It teaches you to shrug things off, because nobody is babying you out there.”
Bucky Berlin, a senior from Jamestown, NC, is a sportswriter for Clemson’s student newspaper, The Tiger.
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