New film tells the story of former footballer Wilbur Jackson

OZARK, Ala. (AP) – Less than an hour before the premiere of the documentary “Quiet Pioneer: The Wilbur Jackson Story,” co-producers Jon Nelson and Phil Cantor didn’t try to hide their emotions.

“I’m a nervous wreck because of the gravity of the project and the internal pressure because you want to do the story justice and do it right,” Nelson said. “The fact that you’re doing it here in the hometown for the first time that a group of people will see it, you hope it goes the right way.”

The film’s soft launch took place recently at the Flowers Center for the Performing Arts in Ozark, the hometown of Jackson, the first black football player with a scholarship to the University of Alabama in 1969 who went on to go on to an eight-year career. years as a runner. back in the NFL.

Jackson returned to his hometown after his professional football career. Only a handful of people had seen the film, which has been in the works since 2016, before the premiere.

“We wanted to take it and start it here, because the story, first of all, is here,” Cantor said. “And second, we need feedback to make sure we’ve done the story justice.

“Doing it as a soft launch, if we need to go back and tweak some things and make some adjustments, I can go back and do that throughout the editing process.”

Nelson and Cantor had worked in television for 30 years before launching the OSG Sports website, which stands for Online Sports Guys. Jackson’s Story is their first documentary.

“When we worked together on television in Atlanta, there was little time for a sports show to tell a story,” Nelson said. “We will always have to put pressure on our news producers and our sports producers… hey, we need that extra time to tell this great story.

“Being able to do this type of project allows you to breathe. That’s the kind of stuff we’ve always liked to do – the storytelling aspect.

None of the producers can take credit for the decision to feature Jackson.

“My wife, Patty, gets all the credit,” Nelson said. “She’s from Ozark. She grew up here, went to Carroll (high school) and she thought, ‘Why don’t you do a documentary on Wilbur?’ Because Phil and I tried to find subjects to do documentaries on.

“We knew, since we’re sports people in Atlanta … we knew what Wilbur meant, but if we don’t say it, he gets lost,” Nelson said.

The documentary includes interviews with Jackson’s family, friends, teammates and coaches – like Dexter Wood, Sylvester Croom, Richard Todd, David Cutcliffe, Ellis Beck and the late Pat Dye – many recognizable names for football fans in South.

An interesting name that will mean nothing to many football fans – Joe Dowdy – was one of the most interesting topics.

“So I’m flying out to Minneapolis, Minnesota to interview the guy (Dowdy) at his house,” Nelson said. “It was his first roommate (in Alabama), and Joe was one of those back roads that we took.

“The whole story of Wilbur being paired with a white teammate to be his first roommate…Joe was fantastic telling that part of the story.

“Literally, you go down a road and think this is the way, then suddenly someone says something and it takes you in that direction.

“I mean, when Sylvester Croom told us what it was like to have him as a teammate/roommate when they were all living in the dorms. Coach Dye with the recruiting part…we were able to catch him before his health deteriorated.

But perhaps the biggest help came from Ozark residents during the early stages of labor six years ago, like Patty’s father, Dr. Pete Mosley, and longtime Southern newspaper editor. Star, Joe Adams.

“Without the Encyclopedia that is him, we wouldn’t have been able to find half of what we found. Joe was awesome,” Cantor said.

Tom McClendon Jr., who is the son of Jackson’s coach at Carroll High, provided a video of Jackson during his high school days.

“We were able to copy them into a digital format for editing,” Cantor said. “We only got a trickle of video from the folks at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, but it was very hard to find. We also have some photos that we could use.

Getting people to talk about Jackson, who is a very humble man, was not difficult.

“They all said the same thing…Wilbur would never come out and crave that kind of attention, but he deserves that kind of attention,” Cantor said.

The plan is to show the documentary at several film festivals and later make it available for people to download online.

“They can see the trailer, which is on the OSG Sports You Tube channel,” Nelson said. “Then keep an eye on ( and social media to follow how things are going.”

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