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'Iron Lions' Shows How Resiliency Can Be a Superpower

by on November 26, 2019 5:00 AM

I was in the audience for a test screening of the “Iron Lions” movie on Nov. 17 at the State Theatre in downtown State College. It’s the true story of the 2012 Penn State football team, dubbed by its makers as the “Greatest 8-4 Season Ever Played.” It tells of how a group of young men had to face unprecedented NCAA and Big Ten sanctions levied on their program in the aftermath of one of the darkest times in school history. Their lives were turned upside down by a guy most of them didn’t know, who hadn’t worked at their school in more than a decade.

The movie is awesome. Poignant, emotional, funny, inspirational, and most of all, authentic. It is a powerful story of resilience and of the players that rose to the occasion to save the Penn State football program.

Michael P. Nash is the producer and director of the film and I reached out to him to ask why a Florida State graduate from Beverly Hills took on such a challenging project. 

“What drew me to this story as a filmmaker was the universal theme of resiliency,” he said. “Executive producer Bob Morgan and I knew the minute we stepped into the story that we saw a bunch of guys who had to climb out of fire that they didn’t create. It was an incredible story of resiliency.”

Every one of us has faced adversity of some form in our lives. Some stressful situation, setback, and even a tragedy. It could be dealing with an illness personally or that of a family member or good friend. It could be dealing with the loss of an important client, being passed over for a promotion, or with the loss of a job. It requires a certain toughness and persistence to overcome and to quickly recover from such difficulties. It requires resiliency.

Resiliency can be your “superpower” that gives you the confidence and courage to get past stressful circumstances and uncertainty and to provide you the hope and inspiration to focus on better times ahead. Resiliency is a character trait that can be learned and trained. 

Penn State alumna and friend Jennifer Eggers, president of LeaderShift Insights, recently released a new book, "Resilience: It's Not About Bouncing Back: How Leaders and Organizations Can Build Resilience Before Disruption Hits." She states that “building resilience involves intentional preparation to increase our ability to emerge from challenges better equipped to deal with them than we were in the past — a transformation into a stronger self.”  Jennifer also encourages organizations to build their own culture of resilience, so they are better prepared for an ever-changing environment that requires them to be adaptable and nimble. 

When “Iron Lions” is released to the public in 2020, after it plays in the film festival circuit, I predict it will be a huge success even outside the Penn State family.  

“Resilience is a universal theme that impacts individuals, teams, schools, colleges, corporations and government,” Michael Nash said. “People love inspirational stories of overcoming adversity. We plan to take this movie around to all these groups to inspire and motivate others.” 

A particularly inspirational part of the film included a powerful message from a former player. With help from the Penn State Football Letterman’s Club, Coach Bill O’Brien brought in former walk-on turned Navy SEAL Rick “Hawk” Slater to address the team.  Slater flew in from San Diego and delivered a speech for the ages.  

“You have to have each other’s backs. The guy to your left, to the right, the guy sitting behind you and the guy sitting in front of you. Charlie Mike…’Continue Mission.’”  

Senior linebacker and team captain Mike Mauti was so impressed with Slater’s talk that he asked if part of his speech could be painted on the wall in the strength training room. Although the official theme for the season was “One Team,” the football players used “Charlie Mike… Continue Mission,” as their own battle cry.

Without giving away too many spoilers, one part of the film that really choked me up was the very emotional interview of Silas Redd. You may recall that Silas was the starting running back who chose to transfer to USC, where his career sputtered. He played briefly in the NFL for the Washington Redskins before retiring from the game. It was his gut-wrenching, emotional interview that grabbed everyone’s attention that was in the theatre. It’s a very powerful part of the movie and I give Silas a lot of credit for having the courage and the resiliency to share his version of why he decided to transfer.  

You can get a “sneak peek” of Silas’ story by listening to last week’s episode of the Adam Breneman Show podcast, hosted by the former Penn State tight end, here

Nash said the players are the real stars of the film. 

“They played for something much bigger than a football game,” he said. “They played for each other, for the university and the community. They played to show everyone what Penn State football really stood for: ‘Success with Honor.’” 

The players, meanwhile, were impressed that Nash and Morgan let the story tell itself because they told the truth.  

“There’s something about this part of the country and its values,” Nash said. “These kids never gave up. The inner strength and character made a difference. It just keeps coming back to resiliency. These guys stayed when it would have been easy to leave.”

It also took the resilience of Morgan, the executive producer, to see the project through. This inspirational movie will be shown in high schools and universities to inspire young people to overcome adversity, fight for something, and look out for their teammates, school and the traditions that shape great institutions. 

The official website describes the movie as such: “This is the story of group of players, who against all odds, stayed. They accepted the challenge, and inspired each other, their coaches and the community. They carried the pride of a great university on their shoulders. This film takes viewers on a journey into the world of playing football at Penn State in 2012.”  

Watch the trailer:

Kudos to Morgan, Nash, former Penn State players Mauti, Mike Zordich, Jordan Hill and Matt McGloin. They were all present at the test screening and did an amazing Q&A session afterwards. These leaders and their teammates earned a special place in the history of Penn State football. Because of their maturity, leadership, and resiliency a program that many felt would implode instead rose up and made history.

So how do you develop resiliency? Remember your purpose and let it guide your attitude and your decisions. Have a “bend, but don’t break” mindset. Remain poised under pressure. Play the cards that are dealt you, no whining or complaining. Take good care of yourself. Surround yourself with people who support you and push you to be better. Let go of the negatives and the setbacks. Practice different scenarios so you are prepared when the inevitable curveball will come your way.  

When adversity comes into your life, make resiliency your superpower.



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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