Film looks at Calvillo's tough upbringing
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MONTREAL - Anthony Calvillo hasn't talked a lot about his past during his 19-year CFL career.
It was known that the Canadian Football League's all-time passing leader grew up in a tough neighbourhood in Los Angeles and that he chose football over a life of street gang crime, but over the years he has given few details of just how difficult it was.
Director Shelley Saywell's documentary "The Kid From La Puente" shows both the horrifying and uplifting aspects of the star quarterback's upbringing that the 40-year-old has kept mostly to himself.
It features a boy growing up in La Puente, a crime-ridden, mostly Hispanic community about 20 kilometres east of Los Angeles, with a violent, alcoholic father and an older brother David who was drawn into a street gang and later jailed for attempted murder.
Calvillo dealt with the pain and the chaos by playing sports, mainly football, in every free moment he found.
Talking about dealing with his home life in the film, Calvillo chokes up when he says: ''It's what you know and you can't do nothing about it.''
The documentary is the third in the eight-part "Engraved on a Nation" series. The first dealt with Saskatchewan's unique fan base and the second was "The Chuck Ealey Story" about the Hamilton quarterback from the 1970s.
"The Kid From La Puente" is narrated by Calvillo's younger brother Mario, and takes cameras back to his old neighbourhood. There are interviews with his mother Tina and brother David, as well as coaches, friends and others who helped the gifted young athlete on his way.
Calvillo said this week he was glad the story has finally been told.
''You've been asked all the questions in the world when you've played so long, so you're kind of used to it,'' he said. ''This wasn't an easy decision to make because now it involved my entire family.
''So we had a family discussion about that. They all felt comfortable moving forward. The thing you find out is that you tend to open up a bit more, not only myself but my mom and my brothers.
"Whenever you can share stuff that maybe's been eating you up inside for years, it's good to get it off your chest. So to me, I thought it was a great thing for my family to share stuff we never shared before.''
Calvillo declined to pass judgement on the final product because he had not yet seen the entire film. And he will be on a plane with his Montreal Alouettes teammates, headed to Regina for a game, when it airs for the first time Thursday night.
It all has a happy ending, of course, starting with his recruitment by former NFL coach Jim Zorn to play at Utah State, where he helped the Aggies win the Vegas Bowl over Ball State.
Undrafted by any NFL club, the six-foot-one pivot signed with the defunct Las Vegas Posse of the CFL in 1994, then spent three seasons in Hamilton before joining the Alouettes in 1998 as understudy to starting quarterback Tracy Ham.
Since taking over as the starter in 2000, Calvillo has piled up records and accolades, including three Grey Cups and three Outstanding Player awards.
Last season, he eclipsed Damon Allen's career records for completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns. Each game, he adds to those numbers, possibly putting them out of reach of anyone who comes after him.
He is settled now in Montreal, his wife Alexia's home town. They have two daughters.
Calvillo is active in community events and charity fundraising. He leads the Alouettes' bible study sessions.
But it has not all been happy times. In 2007, he took a leave of absence at the end of the season to help his wife deal with B-cell lymphoma, a type of cancer, until it went into remission. And in December, 2010, he had his own cancer scare, which required the removal of his thyroid gland.
Both are healthy now, and Calvillo is taking it year by year on how long he will play. He has looked shaky at times this season, and perhaps is showing his age, but he still leads the CFL with 4,499 passing yards.