A new school, but the same compelling JUCO football drama
Who knows if there will be college football or an NFL season this fall? However, there’s compelling college football on right now. Well, kind of. Netflix recently released its fifth season of Last Chance U, a compelling docuseries that explores the little-known world of junior college football. In JUCO, many of the underrated or underachieving players are grinding to earn a scholarship at a traditional four-year school, hopefully Division 1. LCU adeptly captures the barbaric nature of the game. In fact, Last Chance U makes competing football docuseries Hard Knocks and QB1 look downright vanilla.
For its first two seasons, LCU took its cameras to East Mississippi Community College, a JUCO powerhouse. However, any outstanding play on the field was overshadowed by an all- out, on-field brawl. In another memorable sequence, EMCC coach Buddy Stephens, who by his own admission is a work in progress, takes a cheap verbal shot at one his coaches. Amidst the chaos and violence, academic counselor Brittany Wagner gives out pencils and hugs and tells players to go to class. Hard Knocks featured defensive lineman Ronald Ollie, one of Wagner’s favorites. Ollie was unable to stick with the NFL, but a few LCU alums did, including Dakota Allen, who is a wonderful redemptive story. After being booted from Texas Tech, Allen got his act together at EMCC and returned to Tech before making the NFL.
In seasons 3 and 4, LCU should have jumped the shark, but it didn’t thanks to Independence Community College’s coach, the controversial Jason Brown, who’s an artist as far as profanity. “SlapDick,” Brown’s favorite, is the name of his new whiskey and cigar line. Brown, who has also come out with a book, Hate Me Now, Love Me Later, delivers arguably the best line in LCU history while discussing a player’s weak performance in art class. “Draw a fuckin’ picture, man!”, Brown implores the player.
This season, LCU lands at Laney College in Oakland, California. Compared to previous LCU seasons, this one feels relatively soft, not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, the tone feels appropriate for these serious times. Life at Laney is relatively civilized, with a lot fewer expletives. While the coaches can be tough, they’re not nearly as harsh as in previous seasons, specifically Laney’s veteran coach, John Beam. He’s a thoughtful man who enjoys a morning walk, talks with his wife, and, presumably, grooming his unique mustache.
Unlike EMCC and Independence, Laney isn’t in the boondocks, and has no dormitories, which seems to cut down on off-field misbehavior. However, this creates other obstacles. Few of the players cannot afford to live in the gentrified, very hip Oakland area. Some have to commute for hours, and there’s one who sleeps in his car. We see him make spectacular plays under the lights and then retire to a parking lot. Sobering.
There are plenty of other issues. One of the few Division One prospects on the Laney squad is married with young daughters. The series films him wheeling his daughter to class. A family history of pedophilia haunts another player, the grandson of the well-known author Marion Zimmer Bradley. As for the player who sleeps in his car, he’s still recovering from his father’s physical abuse. Last Chance U interviews the father quite extensively. With all of this unfolding, the action on the field is secondary, at least for the viewer. However, for the players, the gridiron is their sanctuary, a place where they can forget and just play and perhaps improve their lives.