'5th Quarter' tackles real-life football drama

Merriman, Quinn in cast; MacDowell in final negotiations

A college football player's tribute to his late brother inspired his team to a record season, and the poignant true story is now headed for the big screen.

Ryan Merriman, Aidan Quinn and Andie MacDowell will play the Abbate family in Rick Bieber's indie drama "The 5th Quarter."

After the family's devastation after 15-year-old Luke Abbate's death in a 2006 car crash and their painful decision to donate his organs to five people, Wake Forest junior Jon Abbate (Merriman) asked his coach to change his jersey number to Luke's number, five. Just before the fourth quarter of each game, the linebacker began holding up five fingers along with his parents, Steven and Maryanne (Quinn and, in final negotiations, MacDowell) as they sat in section five of the stadium.

After news of the personal tribute spread, even opposing players and fans were joining them by the thousands, inspiring the family to launch the Five Foundation dedicated to educating young adults about responsible driving. Abbate's low-ranked team soon reached a school-record 11 wins and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl.

Writer-director Bieber, who is producing through his Angel City Pictures, acquired rights to the Abbates' story and will begin the six-week shoot Oct. 16 on and around the school's Winston-Salem campus. Former Wake Forest player Robert McCreary and Alan Cohen are executive producing the $5 million-range project. Stacy Earl (who appears in Bieber's upcoming regional release "Crazy") and Michael Harding also star.

Several real-life participants in the story will play themselves in the film, including the Abbates' Atlanta-based pastor, Jon Abbate's trainer and Wake Forest's game announcer. "We've also licensed tapes of Jon's games to intercut with scenes shot in Wake Forest's stadium for a heightened sense of realism," says Bieber.

"Quarter" is the latest star turn for the "Final Destination 3" star Merriman (repped by Gersh and Untitled), who recently wrapped the lead in the indie "Wild Cherry." The UTA/Framework Entertainment-repped Quinn will star in Universal's "Wild Child," and the ICM/Affirmative Entertainment-repped MacDowell will next be seen in the indie comedy "The Six Wives of Henry Lefay."
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