When the Game Stands Tall

Former Oregon wide receiver Cam Colvin ’08 shares his story of tragedy and triumph as the journey of his high school football team, the De La Salle Spartans, hits the big screen

When the Game Stands Tall hit theaters nationwide in August and delivers an inspirational message of the merits of discipline and hope. (Photo: yahoo.com)

By UO student Lili Wagner

In 2004, Cam Colvin ’08 was one of four highly recruited players from De La Salle High School’s football program to sign with the University of Oregon. At that time the De La Salle Spartans were uninterrupted in football’s longest winning streak of all time, at 151 games over twelve seasons. Notoriously disciplined, the Spartans were known not only for their prowess on the field but also for the strict morals that bound them together and drove them to victory.

The young recruits had initially been drawn to the University of Oregon as freshmen in high school when Joey Harrington threw for 2,415 yards and 23 touchdowns in his spectacular senior season. Following in the footsteps of De La Salle’s Demetrius Williams, who played wide receiver for Oregon, the four friends signed with the Ducks. “When I took my visit, it felt like home,” Colvin recalled of the University of Oregon. “It felt like the right place for myself, and the rest of the guys.”

Colvin planned to enter college with high school teammates Willie Glasper, Jackie Bates, and Terrance Kelly by his side but tragedy struck shortly before fall quarter began. Just two days before the four were due to start fall camp at the UO, Terrance Kelly was shot and killed by a 15-year-old who was mad about losing a basketball game several months earlier. The football season that followed Terrance’s murder also brought De La Salle’s first loss since 1992.

This year Sony Studios brought the story of the De La Salle Spartans to the silver screen in When the Game Stands Tall. The film chronicles the team’s tremendous success, shocking misfortune, and rise from the ashes. Featuring rousing pep talks, inspiring acts of selflessness, and football montages to boot, the movie received an audience score of 4/5 stars on Rotten Tomatoes, a popular movie review site.

“Back in 2009, Sony and Mandalay approached me about getting the rights for the studio,” Colvin remembered. “I didn’t grasp that it was going to be a major motion film.”

Colvin is portrayed in the movie by Ser’Darius Blain. Colvin said that Blain would call him and text him with questions. “He [Blain] said his background was something similar, so it was personal, and he did a great job.”

Cam Colvin makes a play for Oregon in 2007.
(Photo: oregonlive.com)

While the film focuses on the Spartans, Colvin’s path carried him on to the Ducks.

In the aftermath of Terrance’s murder, the UO football program was incredibly supportive of the Kelly family and the remaining incoming De La Salle recruits. Oregon defensive coordinator and recruiter Nick Aliotti, who had grown close with the Kelly family, delivered the eulogy at Terrance’s funeral.

Colvin, Glasper and Bates courageously joined the Oregon ranks that fall. The men were welcomed into Oregon’s football program. “De La Salle was very family oriented, and I felt the same thing coming from the UO coaching staff. Some of those gentlemen I met on my first day in the locker room are still friends to this day,” Colvin remarked.

Though plagued with various injuries during his time at Oregon, including hamstring and groin problems as well as a broken ankle during his senior year, Colvin was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent after his graduation in 2008. “When I got to the 49ers, my ankle still wasn’t right,” Colvin said. He was released from the 49ers and has yet to play in the NFL but said, “My agent is still trying to get me in the door with the team.”

Today, Colvin is the CEO of Rise Above, his self-started business development and marketing company. “I always had a knack for business,” Colvin said. “I understood that football was not going to last forever, and I didn’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket.” Colvin looks forward to helping entrepreneurs get off the ground with his company.

Meanwhile, De La Salle continues the long process of recovery. The team was honored as the top team in California once again in 2007. Terrance’s father and stepmother, Landrin and Mary Kelly, run the Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation, which teaches literacy, nutrition, anger management, and non-violent conflict resolution to youths in the Richmond area.

Though When the Game Stands Tall undoubtedly reminds the De La Salle community of some its darkest time, it also reinforces the moving values that originally carried the Spartans to glory and that continue to drive De La Salle football alumni in all aspects of their lives. “The main goal of this movie is to send a message of inspiration. It’s through pain and suffering, but the message to kids is to live your life the right way,” Colvin concluded.