SAN DIEGO - The personal waterworks flowed from crimson eyes as Quinn Early typed, first about a struggling son, then about Alzheimer's disease slowly robbing a family of its most precious and irreplaceable connections.
When he closed the laptop an hour later, the seeds of a screenplay tested his emotional reserve.
Early, a 1988 draft pick of the Chargers who played 12 NFL seasons as a wide receiver with four teams, has a son, Cameron, who needed help navigating childhood's sometimes treacherous road. He had a beloved mother, Ann, supportive granite chipped away by merciless dementia.
"Though it's fictional," Early said of the screenplay, "it's pretty much our story."
As life flowed onto the screen, the result became "Just Bake Cookies" - a story destined to become a short film. After a football career that stretched 6,448 yards and 40 touchdowns long, Early became a Hollywood stunt man, working with stars like Will Smith.
Eventually, Cameron became a stunt man as well.
A connection in the industry saw bigger, big-screen promise in Early's son and asked the former NFL player to write something Cameron could direct so he could begin to build a resume on the other side of the camera.
What started as a project became profoundly personal.
"This resonates not just with me, but Cameron too," Early said.
When his son ran into the roadblocks of youth, Early employed a unique parenting strategy.
"I wrote it with my son in mind," Early said. "He struggled at times, like a lot of kids do at some point. He got in a little bit of trouble. I would go to his door and hear him crying on the other side.
"I would bake him cookies. So this resonates not just with me, but him, too."
In the short film scheduled to begin shooting next month across San Diego County, the main character Quinton is counseled by his grandfather and caretaker "Pops." When dark clouds lurk, Pops bakes him cookies.
The character asks why.
The character channels energy into mixed martial arts, becoming a champion. That story wrinkle links fiction and real life as well for Early, who has taught students for nearly 30 years and is now at White Dragon Martial Arts in Mira Mesa.
Early began training in martial arts after his rookie season with the Chargers, crediting the discipline and physical tools gained from Kung Fu as "the No. 1 reason I lasted in the NFL as long as I did."
Threads, woven throughout.
"When I took my yellow-belt test, Cameron, who's 29 now, was a new baby sitting there in a hand basket," Early said.
Now, he smells those cookies again.
"When Cameron was little, he and a friend made movies," Early said. "We'd have premieres. The whole family would sit around, we'd make popcorn and we'd watch their movies. Whatever it was, we'd clap and cheer and tell them how awesome it was."
Though the father and son have continued their stunt work - Early shared a clip on his cell phone showing him being blown off his feet after an explosion and Cameron being shot in still-to-air episode of the TV show "S.W.A.T." - both are imaging new horizons.
Early laughed at a memory of his most recent scene.
"I was taking my pants off in the trailer and glass was still falling off me," said Early, 54. "I'm getting a little long in the tooth, so the jury's out on how long I can keep getting hit by cars and jumping out of plate-glass windows."
The 15- to 20-minute film, which Early plans to enter in as many 2020 festivals as possible, already has gained clearance to shoot at Cathedral Catholic High School and Somerford Place of Encinitas - the Alzheimer's, dementia and memory-care facility where Ann Early spent the last five years of her life.
Early hopes to use the film to raise awareness of the disease and raise money that can be contributed to the foundation in his mother's name and other Alzheimer's initiatives.
Hollywood might open another door, as well.
A production company has talked to Early, he said, about the possibility of a film based on the book "Bryant Acres," which his mother started and he finished after her health battle. The biography tells the story of family relative Sherrod Bryant, a free black man at the height of slavery who eventually became a wealthy land owner in the Antebellum South.
The working title of the potential movie, he said, is "No Color in Heaven."
So, Early's remarkable life rumbles along - from Chargers pass routes to roundhouse kicks, big-screen bruises to a widening world of words.
To support Quinn Early's film project
Former Chargers wide receiver Quinn Early, 54, is working on a short-film project about love and loss called "Just Bake Cookies." A Kickstarter campaign has been launched to help with editing and post-production.
To contribute, go to Kickstarter.com and search for "Just Bake Cookies." Proceeds from the project will help Alzheimer's Foundation initiatives.
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