Last Chance U - A Review
by Randy Snow
Original to www.theworldoffootball.com, Sunday, July 31, 2016
A new documentary series has just been released on the streaming service Netflix about a JUCO football team in Mississippi. In case you are not familiar with the acronym JUCO, it stands for junior college or, more specifically, a community college.
Many people are not even aware that many two-year community colleges across the country actually have college football teams. Many are members of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). There are currently 66 NJCAA community college football teams in seven conferences as well as eight other independent teams. They play an eight-game regular season plus playoffs, bowl games and a national championship game. National championships date back to 1956.
Last Chance U takes place at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Mississippi, a small town with a population of a little over 700 people located northeast of Jackson, Mississippi, near the state line with Alabama. The school was founded in 1927.
Head coach Buddy Stephens has led the team to three national championships in recent years; 2011, 2013 and 2014. The six-episode show follows the team through the 2015 season. Stephens is tough on his players, demanding perfection in games as well as during practice. He is the main reason that the show gets its TV-MA rating for mature audiences, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. His tirades on the field and in the locker room are shown exactly as they occurred, no bleeping out of any of the many four-letter words used repeatedly and often, when his anger is aroused.
EMCC has a reputation for taking in players from major college programs who, for one reason or another, did not fulfill their scholarship obligations. Some are there because of poor grades while others lacked maturity or had disciplinary problems. For whatever reason, many players find themselves in Scooba with one last chance to show that they can play, but more importantly, that they can make it in the classroom.
It is obvious that these young men can play football. What they don’t understand is that being a good player is not enough to make it in college football. You can talk all you want about how the phrase “Student Athlete” is a joke and that players are not there to learn but only to play football. But after watching this documentary you will see why the word student comes first.
For me, the real star of the show is not a coach or a player, it is Brittany Wagner, who is the school’s Athletic Academic Advisor. It is her job to track the players’ attendance in classes as well as their grades to insure that they remain eligible to play football. She may have the toughest job in the entire school.
She acts as mother, best friend, tutor and sounding board to the players who, many times, don’t want to hear what she has to say. Wagner’s job is more than just keeping the players on the field, she is trying to insure that they get a degree and continue their education past EMCC. It is a thankless job but one she does very well.
If a player has five unexcused absences in a class they are dropped from that class. If they cannot make it academically at EMCC, no Division I school will touch them, and their dreams of getting back to a major university and on to the NFL are over.
In order to be ranked #1 or #2 in the country and make it to the NJCAA national championship game, a team not only has to win, but they have to win big. EMCC has a reputation of running up the score on opposing teams, which has caused them to be the target of much criticism within their conference, the Mississippi Association of Junior and Community Colleges.
This is a great documentary series that shows a side of college football many people have never seen before. But it is important for all football fans to see it and understand that college football is more than just what is shown on ESPN. This documentary is raw and pulls no punches in its portrayal of life at one of the lowest levels of college football. I highly recommend it.
www.njcaa.org – National Junior College Athletic Association
www.eastms.edu – East Mississippi Community College