HUNTINGTON -- Mark Patton thought he said farewell to college basketball March 8 when Marshall lost to Tulane in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament. Or so he thought.
Early on a sunny Tuesday morning, with a chill in the air, Patton suited up again -- in gear totally foreign to his generation plus a not-so-flattering pair of glasses -- and joined former teammates A.W. Hamilton, LaVar Carter and Adam Zimmerman, Marshall men's coach Ron Jirsa and Thundering Herd women's coach Royce Chadwick at the outdoor court next to the Marshall track to shoot a scene for the movie "We Are Marshall."
The movie, an inspirational drama based on the tragic Marshall football plane crash of Nov. 14, 1970 and the school's and Huntington's efforts to recover, is being produced by Warner Bros. Pictures in association with Legendary Pictures. The story starts when the chartered jet bringing the team back from a game against East Carolina in Greenville, N.C., crashes short of the runway at Tri-State Airport in Kenova. All 75 aboard die. It charts the recovery process for the team and town and builds to the dramatic conclusion when the Young Thundering Herd scores on the final play to beat Xavier, 15-13, at Fairfield Stadium on Sept. 25, 1971. It was the school's first home game after the crash.
In the movie Matthew McConaughey plays Jack Lengyel, the head coach hired after the crash, while Matthew Fox plays assistant coach Red Dawson.
The scene shot Tuesday shows Patton, a composite character created for the film, setting a vicious pick that flattens two players and an open teammate goes in uncontested for a dunk. The football coaches are watching the action courside and call a timeout. Lengyel (McConaughey) goes onto the court to meet the 6-foot-9 Patton -- known as Dave in the scene -- and inquires about his interest in playing football for the Young Thundering Herd. Patton's response is 'yes sir.'
Lengyel did scour the campus for talent in 1971 because only a handful of players who didn't make the plane trip and members of the 1970 freshman team were available for spring practice. The NCAA allowed Marshall to play freshmen in 1971.
Patton said his part in the movie has grown from what he first imagined. Patton said the physical picks he set in the scene might have been illegal, but the film makers wanted him to portray a wild player.
"I thought I'd be an extra," Patton said. "Then it comes to this. I'm honored to be a part of it."
What was it like to shake hands with McConaughey, one of Hollywood's leading actors?
"It wasn't too bad," Patton said. "I wasn't star struck. I didn't have that much to say. I just had to be myself."
Patton's next movie work will be in Atlanta where football scenes will be shot.
The outfits worn by Patton, teammates, McConaughey and Fox represented the early 1970s well. Short basketball shorts, Converse sneakers, tube socks and tight jerseys for the players. A far cry from the sleek warmups and uniforms -- shorts that reach the knees and below -- Patton wore at Marshall.
"I feel like Kurt Rambis" Patton said, referring to a former NBA player with a similar look in thick, black rimmed glasses. "I didn't know about the glasses. This blows my mind. I tried the clothes on yesterday. The shorts were tight. Not my style and I'm glad."
Makeup crews used heavy doses of spray to keep Patton's hair, with a part on the right, in place. Actors were splashed with water prior to each take to make it appear they were sweating.
McConaughey wore a brown plaid jacket, brown slacks, a white shirt with a tie that featured a sign-of-the-times large knot. Fox's outfit was dark and conservative. For the movie, Fox's hair is red to match Dawson's.
Patton, who is from Barboursville, made an impression on McG, the film's director, and Basil Iwanyk, the producer, with his play in home games against Memphis and Southern Miss. The center led the Herd in scoring, rebounding and was voted outstanding player by his teammates.
"An audition? I don't know," Patton said. "I guess it kind of turned out that way. It was pretty easy. I've done all this before."
Except for one thing. Patton, who led Cabell Midland to the West Virginia Class AAA state title in 2002, would normally roll to the basket after setting a pick and take a pass if left unguarded. Tuesday, he had to stay put after the pick.
"No roll," he said with a smile. "I had to forget what I was taught."
Patton said he's a football fan and plans to brush up on needed skills before he arrives in Atlanta.
"I'll be ready. I like football a lot," said Patton, who was a regular at Herd football games during his basketball career. "I'll get better as time goes on. I'm looking forward to it."
Patton graduates in May with a degree in business management. He and fiance Rachel West have an August wedding planned.
Could Tuesday's work lead to a career in acting?
"Who knows?" Patton said. "We'll wait and see. This is a nice thing to have on a resume. It'll be a nice thing to show the kids and grandkids."
About 11 a.m., Patton and the gang got the scene just right. The film went into the can and that meant a wrap for that segment. The next time Patton suits up, it will be in a football uniform in Atlanta. He's aware he could be on the receiving end of some of the hits he handed out Tuesday.
"That's football," he said.
Moments later, Patton, as he was leaving the set, took one look back.
"It's still hard to believe all this went down," he said. "I'm from here so I know the story. To be a part of it is really special."