It’s easy to forget that college football’s large, highly skilled athletes are either in their teenage years or barely out of them.

Even in the best of circumstances, it’s an emotionally charged time of life.

Well, for the 2012 Penn State football team, add on sanctions in the immediate aftermath of the Sandusky Scandal and the death of the legendary coach who recruited them. These were no ordinary times for a storied program suddenly on the brink of extinction.

Saving the Roar, a pay-per-stream documentary set for its on-line home theatrical release Friday night on the eve of the No. 10 Nittany Lions’ showdown at Beaver Stadium with No. 22 Auburn, tells that team’s story.

“As a Penn State fan, your going to learn a lot about what was going on behind closed doors and how very, very close this program was to ending,” writer-producer-director Michael Nash told me in a recent interview.

From conversations I’ve had with people who’ve gotten to preview it, this will be the most in-depth, heart-tugging chronicle of that season to date. It’s the only season without a championship or undefeated record to be commemorated on Beaver Stadium’s Ring of Honor. That team made an impact well beyond its 8-4 record.

“I don’t know anybody who has watched this movie who has not cried,” Nash said.

For those who choose full access, the premier includes a live look at a red carpet event as film participants arrive at a State College theater along with PSU letterman and other invited guests starting at 6 p.m. The film will run 7-8:50 p.m., with a ‘postgame’ session of interviews and features starting at 9. The somewhat novel on-line distribution plan came as an answer to coronavirus concerns. The film can be purchased and viewed through savingtheroar.com and savingtheroar.in.live, which offers some interactive extras as well.

Saquon Barkley is among the featured former Lions in movie, talking about how guys like Michael Mauti, Michael Zordich and many others from 2012 set the stage for his magical run with the resurgent Nittany Lions a few years later.

 

The film was the brainchild of Penn State alum Bob Morgan, one of its executive producers. It includes conversations with many of the key people from the 2012 squad, including Mauti, Zordich, QB Matt McGloin and first-year head coach Bill O’Brien. It also includes players from the pre-sanctions period and other insiders, such as author and sports commentator John Bacon, who had 24/7 access to the program during that time.

I chatted with Nash to find out a little bit more about the film.

Me: I’ve heard that many of the interviewees in the film are highly emotional, especially Silas Redd, the stud RB recruit who decided not to stay.

Nash: We interviewed Silas the same day we interviewed Saquon Barkley, in a sports bar in Los Angeles. … Silas was so emotional. No one had ever asked for his side of the story. He had received death threats for almost a decade, yet he never had an opportunity to tell his side of the story. When we were done interviewing him — and he was in tears for most of the interview — he came to hug me afterward, and he said ‘thank you,’ and he literally almost collapsed. In was incredibly therapeutic for him. … One of the most interesting storylines of this film is what Silas said. … Silas Redd was 19 years old, dreamed of playing for Penn State as a child, and all of a sudden they’re not even sure if the program is going to be around. The No. 1 team (in preseason polls) that year was USC, and USC was in need of a running back. Tough decisions for a 19 year old.

Me: Barkley also said some powerful stuff.

Nash: When we were interviewing Saquon, he said, ‘We owe those guys so much more than just putting their number up on the stadium. This is the team that saved the roar.’ He states in the movie, ‘I wanted to be like those players. … The reason I went to Penn State is because of what I saw from those guys in 2012. It’s bigger than football.’

Me: Does the film delve into Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno’s dismissal and death, etc.

Nash: Very little time is spent on that. This film is not about what happened in 2011. This film is about what happened with the 2012 team, and how they saved Penn State football. That’s really where ‘Saving the Roar’ comes from.

Me: How did you convince Mauti and Zordich to choose you over other filmmakers?

Nash: When we first approached Mauti, he had several other production companies interested in doing this film. When I sat down with [Mauti and Zordich] … they said, ‘how would you tell this story?’ I said, ‘I won’t tell the story; it will come from your voices and who you think we should be interviewing. … What’s interesting to me about this story is all of the universal themes, themes that so many people who could care less about football will identify with. … We wanted to make this film for sports fans in general, for people in general. It’s told on a much larger scale than just one school. It’s created to have everybody identify with the team’s journey.

Me: How did Mauti and Zordich hold up during filming?

Nash: In was so emotional for both on them. … Once we started talking, everything that happened in 2012 came bubbling back up. It was so tough on them, we literally had to reschedule a number of interviews for both of them.

Me: How will access to the film work after Friday night? Was this approach dictated by COVID?

Nash: We’ll have 6 screenings a day for 30 days. As of now, we don’t plan on making it available after that. Before COVID, we were talking to several theaters. We had one chain with over 500 theaters that was interested. … We want to make sure people can see this movie. We think this is the best way to do it. The price tag is about the same as a regular movie ticket, but you can have several people in your living room watching it. And the real good news is, you don’t have to pay $20 for popcorn, you can make your own.

Me: Final thoughts?

Nash: This is so much more than a sports film or a football film. This is a film about a group of millennials who ended up playing for something much bigger than they signed up for. … They found themselves in the flames of a fire they had nothing to do with, and had the opportunity to pack their bags and run way. … This film focuses on those who stayed.”