Players hang onto their football dreams and their sanity in Last Chance U, something that makes it unlike any other sports documentary.
Last Chance U is a Netflix documentary series that follows around the East Mississippi Community College football team as they play their 2015 Junior College Schedule. The main characters are the star players of the team who are vying for a division one football scholarship. These players include Quarterback Jonathan Franklin III, quarterback Wyatt Roberts, running back D.J. Law and defensive lineman Ronald Ollie among others. Other key people in the documentary include Head Coach Buddy Stephens and Academic Advisor Brittany Wagner as well as a few of the assistant coaches.
Stephens tries to get guys who are supremely talented, but have off-field issues (such as academics or trouble with law), to buy into performing for the East Mississippi Community College Lions. His main jobs are making sure these players perform on the field and get looked at by scouts. He has to encourage players who aren’t getting as many looks from division one colleges and to get the best out of the ones who have great scholarship offers from schools. Stephens has to balance team success and helping the players stay motivated during their quest to get scholarship offers.
Wagner has the tall order of making sure all of the student athletes stay academically eligible. All players need to have a 2.5 GPA if they wish to get a scholarship from a division one school. She follows kids to class and makes sure they do their school work. Her role may be academic advisor, but she has a mother-like effect on some of the athletes.
The show is super-compelling to watch for a wide variety of factors that create suspense. The players are at the forefront of this, because of their desperate need to find scholarships. This also hits them on multiple fronts as they need to stay healthy, academically eligible, out of legal trouble and perform on the field in order to receive the ultimate reward of a scholarship. The stakes these players have are great, as a lot of them don’t have any plan “Bs” to playing college football, which keeps the viewer coming back to see if they can accomplish their goals and avoid despair.
The setting of Scooba, Mississippi is rather boring. This causes most of the scenes to be shot at Ms. Wagner’s office, the football field or the locker room, which speaks to how frustrated the players get that there isn’t anything to do in the town. It can be pretty tiring to see so many scenes, that don’t have the best video quality, set in the same exact places.
The most intriguing character in Last Chance U is John Franklin III. Franklin was a highly touted recruit, who wasn’t seeing the field for Florida State, so he needed to play games for EMCC to be seen by other schools looking to recruit him. He battled Roberts for playing time at quarterback, which is where he showed some frustration. His ultimate goal was to get a scholarship at Auburn, a dream he chases all season. Franklin is a smart, confident kid who knows what he wants. He is brutally honest and even has the pleasure of telling Ms. Wagner how college kids think, which is one of the better exchanges in the whole show.
Ronald Ollie may be the most dynamic character in the documentary. He goes through injuries, academic issues and personal trials during his time at EMCC. Ollie is the only player that viewers truly get to know as he highlights a lot of key scenes. His development will keep viewers hooked.
Buddy Stephens is a dictator at coach, which is needed at EMCC, a place where these athletes need discipline. With the good also comes the bad as Stephens questions whether players are actually injured, doesn’t listen to assistants and other players all the time and even berates players even when they don’t deserve it. He has a nasty temper, which gets himself and his team in trouble with his actions and words. The team always tries to run up the score, which may not make him a great sportsman, but it is the nature of JUCO football. At the end of the day, the players know he has a passion for football and team success, but they don’t know if he has enough interest in their lives.
Ultimately, the tension that is created between Wagner, Stephens and the players due to the stress of achieving team and individual success make this a must-see documentary for people who are interested in football and for those who like watching the trials and tribulations of leaders getting the most out of young men.
Rating: 9/10 footballs.