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Howie McCormick/For The Herald-Dispatch Former Marshall University head football coach Jack Lengyel talks about Matthew McConaughey's portrayal of him in "We Are Marshall."

HUNTINGTON -- It was a solemn day in 1971, sometime before Marshall University's football team traveled to Morehead State to start a new chapter in the school's football history.

That's when then head coach Jack Lengyel remembers taking his "Young Thundering Herd" to Spring Hill Cemetery. His team would make a weekly pilgrimage to that final resting place before every game during the 1971 season, and Lengyel said that experience was a well-kept secret up until Warner Bros. Pictures showed an interest in the school's triumphant comeback.

"That was a very private moment," he said. "At 6 a.m. we would take a bus and some cars, and only the football team, the coaches and the managers. No athletic administration, no press, we never had any boosters or nobody there. It was our private moment."

Lengyel shared those thoughts and others during a Dec. 12 interview with The Herald-Dispatch.

During the on-camera interview, the coach discussed his memories, the obstacles his team faced and relationships he formed during that comeback year.

The Warner Bros. Pictures film "We Are Marshall" captures much of that comeback. It was released across the nation Friday.

In the movie, Warner Bros. depicts a scene where Marshall President Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) asks Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) to explain why he wants the job.

Lengyel said his real-life reason was simple. He wanted to give back to a sport that had given him so much.

"Football had given me my profession, my life and my life's work," he said. "I accepted the job because of that. I thought, 'Here's a school that needs help, and I need a payback opportunity to football and too all the things it had given to me and my family.' "

The movie also recounts struggles that Lengyel faced in just trying to field a team, such as Marshall having to compete with West Virginia University for recruits.

"We lost a lot of players," he said. "WVU got some. A lot of other schools got some."

Lengyel also took time to discuss the real-life relationships he developed with others at Marshall. Some of those friendships are captured in the film, such as scenes with assistant coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) and team captain Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie).

"That was special," he said of his relationship with Ruffin. "I brought (him) into our staff and made him like an assistant football coach. He was not only a leader. When he walked into a room, he commanded presence. He was an outstanding football player. I mean, he was mean and tough and everybody respected Nate. So when Nate spoke, the team listened."

 

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