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August 1, 2014

Behind the scenes: `The U Reloaded'














CLICK HERE FOR INFORMATION ON ORDERING `THE U RELOADED: THE RISE FOR FIVE'

There were so many times he was ready to quit. You think training to be a championship football player for the University of Miami used to be challenging for former running back Najeh Davenport? How about deciding to put up your own money to create a documentary about YOUR TEAM and being told that you have to pay $300 for every SECOND of footage of the games you played in, even a second of footage of yourself? A touchdown run that took say eight seconds to develop. That will be $2400, please.

That can be kind of tough to reconcile.

Now imagine this.

Imagine you work for weeks to line up an interview with one of your former teammates, cornerback Duane Starks. You get there early, set up the lights, the microphones and cameras. You roll the tape. The interview lasts almost an hour. Then you get into the editing room and there is no sound on the damn film. You forgot to turn on the microphone.

"Duane is going to think he ended up on the cutting room floor," Davenport says now.

He is laughing at himself. He can do that now because the film, his dream, is about finished. After five years of turning his life into the reality show of a former athlete chasing a newfound labor of love, there is a beginning, a middle and an end.

There is a title.

The U Reloaded: The Rise For Five

It's the story of the 1996-2001 Miami Hurricanes and their return to glory.

If you choose to support Davenport's work and watch the movie, and I suspect a lot of Miami fans will now that pre-orders are being taken for the DVD and online pay per view / video on demand viewing begins September 1, you will notice some similarities in style to The U documentary that has been a hit the past five years on ESPN. Just don't accuse Davenport of being a copycat. He was filming his movie before The U was released.

He had taken a few film classes at a boot camp in California, hired a production company and was $70,000 into what he had been told would be a $400,000 project. That is quite a price to pay to tell the story of the exploits and accomplishments of you and your pals. But the project meant so much to Davenport that he was willing to foot the entire bill until the invoices began coming and he started looking at the line items and realized exactly what he was paying for and how much he was being charged for it.

Back then, in 2009, the film was going to be the story of five great running backs - Davenport, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis and Frank Gore. It was going to be called, "The Tale of Five."

But the trip to Baltimore to interview McGahee and Ed Reed showed up on a budget at $45,000.

The charges got more ridiculous from there. $150,000 for the camera guy and producers. An additional $55,000 for editing. $23,000 for insurance.

So Davenport fired the production guys and decided to do the whole thing himself.

"It's such a shady business," he says now.

As he went along, the film evolved into the broader story it is today.

So just how did a guy who lasted eight years in the National Football League after his career at Miami end up as a budding filmmaker?

"I was always into the film thing," Davenport said. "But I took theatre classes at Miami. I got suckered into it because it was an easy `A'. The first class I took was Improv 101. A bunch of us were in the class, me and Santana Moss, Ed Reed, Brett Romberg, Dan Morgan, Joaquin Gonzalez, Al Blades. Football kept me so busy and I didn't really know what kind of film area I wanted to be in. So I ended up dropping my business major and became a theatre major.

"But I have always been a movie person. I would watch movies all day long if I could. I still go to the movies two days a week."

Davenport actually made his first movie when he was a freshman at UM. He and a couple of his best childhood friends put together a plot about a famous football player who got set up for a murder. Davenport used a little camera his mom bought him. He didn't do much editing because he didn't know how to do it.

But The U Reloaded is full of home movies he shot of his teammates with that same camera. Some of it is entertaining stuff. A lot was self-censored out of the movie along the way as Davenport wrestled with the benefits of outrageousness in his film vs. the betrayal his friends and former teammates might feel if some of their secrets were exposed.

He didn't think Brett Romberg would appreciate, for example, footage of him shaving every hair off the body of teammate Sherko Haji-Rasouli, head to toe and all places in between. There also was some pretty raunchy stuff from the players' trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl in January 2001. The team had plenty of steam to blow off after an FSU team that they beat in the regular season got to play for the national championship in the Orange Bowl even though they both finished with the same record.

"There was a lot of stuff that I had that I wanted to use," Davenport said. "You get so into the project.

"Don't get me wrong. There still was a ton of stuff that obviously made the cut. But there were some scenes that were kind of questionable that I decided to leave alone. These are my friends. I didn't want to betray anybody or damage any reputations."

Miami might not have been as over the top behaviorally during that time as the bad boy Canes were in the 80's. But boys will always be boys and when you hear Al Blades dropping F-Bombs early in the film you can't help but burst into laughter.

"You have to understand that there were no race barriers back then," Davenport said. "We said what came to mind. We had a comfort level with each other.

"It was all about football. It didn't matter what your background was, how much money you had, your views. It was all about football.

"I tried my best to give it to the people in this film. But there were some things that people would not understand today, some of the language that we used. We were 20-year-old kids. We were just out there. Nothing meant anything to us because we had one goal in mind and that was to win football games."

In the initial stages of filming The U Reloaded, Davenport tried to coordinate multiple interviews at a time to make the production process easier. But all the players had different schedules and that was a good concept that didn't come to fruition.

So it has taken him five years from start to finish to get to this place where he can put a finished product out there for your eyes. Along the way, he picked up an assistant in Miami alum Platon Alexandrakis, who was willing to work for free and would serve as his producer. They did it all and then some.

"You know how you have a bucket list," Davenport said. "This was just something I wanted to do. Movies make millions of dollars. You look at people who are professionals and you see it is their craft. You dive head first into it.

"We would shoot and learn from our mistakes. I am still anxious. It's not really off the shelf yet."

The film is full of behind the scenes footage from Greentree practice field, the Canes locker room, hotel rooms, and dorms, footage the regular fan would never see. Davenport really cares about whether you will like it.

"You have no idea. When you put your name on something ... People are going to judge," Davenport said. "They are going to say this video is not good as another and things like that.

"When it comes out and people look at it, I know they will like it. It's a story out of my eyes. I saw my team grow from 1996 to 2002. I think they will enjoy it because of all the footage we have that they would never see."

CLICK HERE FOR INFORMATION ON ORDERING `THE U RELOADED: THE RISE FOR FIVE'



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