GJ graduate produces tribute to Aunese

George Antonopoulos watch-ed closely as the University of Colorado football team rallied around a fallen teammate to win a national title.

Twenty years later, the Grand Junction High School graduate’s documentary film is on the verge of being released. “I’m riding in a cloud I can’t explain,” Antonopoulos said. “Being from Grand Junction allowed me the opportunity to succeed on a bigger scale.”

The 1986 Grand Junction High School graduate will announce the upcoming release of a documentary film on former University of Colorado quarterback Sal Aunese during halftime of next Friday’s nationally televised CU-Nebraska game in Boulder. The Carei family of Grand Junction helped Antonopoulos with an investment in the film.

Antonopoulos, who played football for the Tigers, attended CU and followed the Buffaloes, including the 1990 national championship season one year after Aunese died of stomach cancer.

Aunese led the Buffaloes to an 8-4 record as a junior in 1988, then was diagnosed with cancer in March 1989 and died six months later as CU opened the season without him.

Before Aunese died, he had a son with coach Bill McCartney’s daughter. T.C. McCartney was five months old when his father died. T.C. is now a reserve quarterback for the same coach who recruited Aunese to Colorado, Les Miles, at Louisiana State University.

“It’s the most inspirational sports love story of all time,” Antonopoulos said. “The team rallied around him and won the national championship. It’s an amazing story.

“This is an uplifting story. It’s Rudy meets Rocky with a twist of Brian’s Song.”

Antonopoulos, whose parents owned and operated the Two Rivers Inn for nearly 25 years, lived in a dorm next to Aunese on CU’s campus.

“I’d see (Aunese) around,” Antonopoulos said. “I knew who he was and I had a keen interest in football. When he started getting sick and died, that’s when I started crafting the story.”

Antonopoulos earned his bachelor’s degree in 1991 and his MBA from Colorado in 1994. He is the co-executive director of Livin’ Large Productions, LLC, based in New York City, with his fiance, Lara Anne Slife. She co-produced the film with him.

“I was driving from Grand Junction to New York and stayed in Boulder one day in the fall,” Antonopoulos said. “I went to a high school game and Coach McCartney was sitting behind me. We started talking. It was meant to be, and for me to do (the documentary).

“I had a unique perch to craft the story. It was a matter of giving it the decency it deserved and I was going to see it all the way through.”

Antonopoulos said he has worked on the documentary for 14 years.

The original plan was for a 48-minute film, but it could be anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes after it’s edited, he said.

The documentary includes more than 25 interviews, game footage and family footage, Antonopoulos said.

He expects it to be released sometime in the spring of 2010 and plans on beginning work on a feature film, ‘Sal,’ within 90 days of the release of the documentary.

“This is my way of giving back,” he said.

Antonopoulos has produced 10 off-Broadway productions.

Pressheather stewart