A former player’s documentary about the 2004 Bradwell Institute Tigers is getting closer to completion.
The film, “Welcome to the Jungle” by San Antonio filmmaker Chris Bell is now in the production stages. A trailer will be released in September.
Bell was an All-Region 3-AAAAA performer at outside linebacker for the Tigers in 2004, when they went 9-2 and put together the second best regular season in the program’s history before losing 21-7 to visiting Houston County in the first round of the playoffs.
That loss on Olvey Field took place back when the stadium ran parallel to Gen. Stewart Way and at a time when the Tigers were the No. 1 high school football program in town and one of the best in this part of Georgia.
Things have changed a bit since then, though BI’s 33-0 scrimmage win Friday over Johnson may be a sign the program’s once sagging fortunes are about to be revived under first-year head coach Ross Couch.
But for Bell, 2004 stands out because he believes people in Hinesville still remember the way it was.
“Even though we didn’t win a championship, the community was involved with us and had faith in our team,” Bell said. “I felt Hinesville still remembers 2004, and they’re still proud of our accomplishments.”
For his film, Bell made a trip back to Georgia state from San Antonio to do on camera interviews with former teammates and coaches, including then-head coach Jim Walsh Jr., who two years ago was named to the Greater Savannah Athletic Hall of Fame, and former defensive coordinator Jeff Miller.
While in Georgia, Bell also interviewed former players such as Jake Walsh, Vince Vance, who went on to play at the University of Georgia, Jeffrey McWilliams, Mike McCampbell, Gary Guyton, who played in the NFL, Joe Matavao and Clyde Harrison — as well as longtime coach Joseph Smiley, an institution in BI football, and former assistant coach John Wood. Not all played on the 2004 team, but they lent perspective. And some had changed a bit. Take Jake Walsh, for example.
“In high school I was taller than Jake,” Bell said. “I went to see him, and he had swole up. I was like, ‘what are you eating.’ He was big, but big as in fit. He was in great shape.”
In fact, everybody Bell talked to looked like they could still buckle up a chinstrap, he said.
“Vince is huge. Vince looked like a body builder. Everybody I saw was in good shape. Mike McCampbell is huge, it’s like he lives in the weight room. It was really good to see how everybody’s doing and some of those guys look like they could still go out, put on some pads and play.”
More on that putting on pads thing in a second.
There were some Bell couldn’t connect with — he was on a tight schedule — including Mick Ramsey, another integral part of the 2004 team. Among those Bell interviewed either long distance or elsewhere is running back Jarrell Crawford, the 3-AAAAA offensive player of the year that season who went on to play at Georgia Southern.
While here, Bell also talked with Couch, the Tigers new head coach, who gave him a look at the fieldhouse and the Tigers’ Wall of Fame, where Bell’s photo hangs along with those of a number of his teammates.
Bell even suited up in some practice gear. At age 31.
It fit, and put Bell in the wayback machine for a bit.
“That was a chance to relive some high school moments for about a good hour,” Bell said.
The documentary may be about in part reliving the 2004 season, but it goes a little deeper than that for Bell. He said the moral of this story is about the kind of success you have in real life.
“I want our story to motivate people to work hard and understand what it takes on the field and in the classroom to be successful in school in football, in life, and in what happens after high school,” he said. “Not all success stories end with a state or national championship. That’s a fact.”
The former outside linebacker hopes to complete his film soon and then enter it in various 2018 festivals and premiere it in Hinesville at Liberty Cinemas. You can follow Bell’s journey in making the documentary on Facebook through his page Bell Filmz.
I, for one, can’t wait.
Whitten is managing editor of the Coastal Courier. He was Courier sports editor in 2004.