Former Syracuse Lacrosse Star Rorke Denver Assumes New Role in 'Act of Valor'

Jerry MilaniContributor IFebruary 18, 2012

Rorke Denver
Rorke Denver

There are still way too many times where we equate the terms of battle with sporting events, even as America winds down from conflict on two fronts. But there are a handful of elite athletes who effectively mix the metaphors because they have earned the right to do so, serving in defense of one's country around the experience in intercollegiate or professional athletes.

One of these true warriors is featured in the upcoming film "Act of Valor," which hits theaters next week, just as lacrosse season is getting started. His name is Rorke Denver, and before becoming a Navy Seal, he starred for Syracuse University as an honorable mention All-American and member of two NCAA Championship teams for the Orange.

Now Denver is no full-time actor. He remains a full-time active-duty SEAL. The film, directed by The Bandito Brothers, tells the story of a SEAL mission with the help of a cast made up of active-duty SEALS, a first for Hollywood by the director pair of Scott Waugh and Mouse McCoy, who have worked on a long series of high energy films, shorts, trailers and commercials during their storied career.

Denver uses his own first name in the film and is the leader of a SEAL team assigned to stop a terrorism threat on foreign shores in a 90-minute high-octane thriller.

The film, based on actual missions and done with the help and approval of the Navy, is the first in a series of SEAL-themed films coming out over the next few months, but it may be the most realistic.

"Our goal was to create a film, based around the ops designed by the SEALS, that is as true to life with the action and the plot lines as possible," McCoy said recently. "We think because of the commitment that we had from the SEALS, that we have achieved that realism which every moviegoer will experience first hand. It was a special experience."

Special experiences should be no stranger to Denver, who has excelled in all he has done on and off the field throughout his career. A native of Los Altos, Calif., he played water polo and lacrosse in high school, and on a challenge from his dad, attended a summer lacrosse camp in Syracuse.

The coaches liked what they saw, and after walking on to the team as a freshman, he steadily improved into a starter and tri-captain his senior year for the Orange.

Rorke Denver
Rorke Denver

It was also during that time that he was given a copy of the book "My Early Life," by Winston Churchill, and thoughts of a career in the military came to mind. The combination of a family friend and an upbringing near the Northern California coast led him to the SEALS, and his career after college.

Little did he know that perhaps his most visible role for a group known for its ability to be stealthy would come in a feature motion picture.

"The realism of the film comes from the fact that all the guys in the film have gone through these ops first hand, and that they were able to take that first-hand experience to the screen," Waugh added. "Like the athletes we have worked with in the past, these guys are not acting, they are re-living experiences that they have gone through, and that experience is what makes 'Act of Valor' work."

But with that realism still comes the veil of secrecy that surrounds the SEAL program. Even though you 'meet' the SEALS in the film, their identities are never fully disclosed. In fact, none of the SEALS were made available by the Navy to promote the film, Rorke included.

"It was a bit difficult, but the star of the film is really the story itself, and that's the way the guys understood it to be," McCoy said. "For them and for all those who serve, the glory is in the mission, not the individual."

As far as their athleticism and ability to adapt to the rigorous scenes they had to run through in filming, the directors felt they were blessed. Few re-takes, little extra staging, even real bullets, and a set of physically fit combat troops were all at their disposal.

"These guys are the real deal, and were ready to execute the mission," Waugh added. "Whether their passions were with Muay Thai or lacrosse or surfing or boxing, they were in great shape, and made it easy for us as directors to work around them. It was a pleasure and an honor to make the film with them."

For Denver, the road from the Carrier Dome to the battlefield to the big screen has been an interesting one for sure, one that will hopefully continue to shed more positive and inspiring light on the lives of SEALS and other successful NCAA athletes, who more often than not, let their actions do their talking for them.

So as lacrosse season kicks in, the terms of battle will mix again with the lexicon of sport. Many will speak those words, but few will live them like one former lax star has, a shining example of success for all who take to the field this spring.