Junior college football series uncovers the soul of sports
Last Chance U, now in its third season on Netflix, is the most compelling show anywhere, period. LCU, which was originally inspired by a GQ article and is produced in conjunction with GQ publisher Conde Nast, is real – a raw documentary. As Conde Nast’s print titles struggle, they’re absolutely killin’ it with this docuseries. Nothing’s manufactured. It’s tough to watch HBO’s lesser NFL reality show Hard Knocks after binging LCU.
During the show’s first two seasons, LCU traveled to tiny, rural Scooba, Mississippi (population 700) to chronicle East Mississippi Community College’s football season. Never heard of ‘em? No one has. Junior college or JUCO football is off the radar, not televised, rarely if ever covered in any media. East Mississippi granted LCU full, unlimited access.
In the unknown universe of JUCO football, East Mississippi is a powerhouse. Many of its players are talented enough to play at the Division 1 level, say at somewhere such as Alabama or Penn State. Unfortunately, something – poor academics, illegal behavior, sometimes both – has relegated them to this college football purgatory. For most, if not all, it’s their last shot. It’s way bigger than football, and the stakes can’t get any higher. Indeed, without preaching, LCU explores race and education.
Ultimately, East Mississippi’s academic counselor Brittany Wagner wins the first two seasons. At every turn, she’s there to uplift and guide the East Mississippi underdogs. The bar is set awfully low for these “student-athletes.” Ms. Wagner will forever be remembered for tirelessly pleading with her charges to bring a pencil to their classes.
When LCU announced that it was moving on from East Mississippi and on to a new JUCO, I feared that the show would jump the shark. My fears were unwarranted. Last season, LCU traveled to Independence, Kansas, home of Independence Community College. Unlike East Mississippi, the Independence football team is a perennial doormat. But the Independence administration is on a crusade, and they’ve brought in a white knight, Coach Brown, who turns race, among other things, upside down. He’s a white dude from Compton who talks like a gangster, often boasting that he’s “a hustler.” Indeed, he is, as he got Netflix to come to Independence. Brown, a JUCO alum himself, has cred. He played professionally at the arena level and has also done time. He’s also a great recruiter, and he has brought in elite talent, including a one-time top ranked high school quarterback, a castoff from D-1 powerhouse Florida State. Throughout the season, Coach Brown duels with his team, another cast of complicated souls.
After Season 3 concludes, viewers are rewarded with updates on some of the principals from the first two seasons. East Mississippi remains a powerhouse – but who cares. Without spoiling, there are much bigger issues, enough to fill an entire, separate season without football.