Ernie Davis only lived until the age of 23 but his impact on American life is still felt today.

As the first black athlete to win the prestigious Heisman Trophy - awarded annually to the top college football player - Davis broke both sporting and racial barriers on route to becoming an early icon of the civil rights movement.

Director Gary Fleder’s biopic is an often entertaining account of his life despite occasional slides into overly sentimental territory.

After a slow and rather formulaic opening which covers Davis’ upbringing the film bursts into life as the young running back attempts to make his mark at the historic, an almost all white, Syracuse University.

Fans of the sport will not be left disappointed by the many gridiron scenes which feature plenty of hard-hitting and breathtaking plays.

Rob Brown gives a likeable and believeable performance in the lead role, transforming comfortably from Davis’ relaxed, unassuming off-field persona to the hungry, determined winner on the field.

The real MVP is Dennis Quaid, who gives a gripping, growling portrayal of Davis’ coach Ben Schwartzwalder.

The scenes in which Brown and Quaid go toe-to-toe, as Davis forces Schwartwalder to question his own racial prejudices, provide the film’s finest moments.

Unusually for this genre the sporting highlight - Syracuse’s Cotton Bowl victory over the University of Texas in 1960 - occurs two-thirds of the way through the film.

Tragically Davis never played a down in the professional leagues after falling victim to leukaemia. The impact of the disease and its treatment is disappointingly sidelined as Fleder chooses to assess his subject’s legacy on the sport in the film’s final scenes.