Roland Ollie Last Chance U ()Roland Ollie Last Chance U () © Copyright

The hardest knocks

Even if you don’t like the NFL, you HAVE to watch the game-changing sports documentary Last Chance U

Last Chance U is a six-part, totally-bingeworthy Netflix documentary set in the middle of nowhere.

It follows the East Mississippi Community College Lions in their quest to win the 2015 national football championship. EMCC is defending back-to-back national titles and have put the small town of Scooba (population: 732) firmly on the American football map. In just a few years, it has been transformed from a junior college with
an unremarkable sporting history to a place where bigger colleges send scouts to discover players. In 2016/17, there are nine EMCC alumni active in the NFL. 

Last Chance U ()

 

In 2010, EMCC began taking football very seriously; recruiting talented players who’d fallen between the sport’s cracks. Set far from the glitz of the NFL, the series focuses on the trials and tribulations of a number of those players, exploring their intriguing backstories. 

John Franklin III is a gifted, lightning-fast quarterback who’s dropped down a level after spending his freshman season at Florida State. Franklin’s aim is to dazzle at junior college level before returning to a higher standard the following season. Then there’s DJ Law, a talented running back who’s a class apart from many opponents, but who doesn’t have sufficient academic ability to earn entry to a top college. In a similar position is loveable 22-stone offensive tackle Ronald Ollie. Despite a comic exterior and tremendous talent, there’s an emotionally vulnerable boy with a deeply troubled childhood. He is the character you root for hardest.

Last Chance U locker room ()

 

Whatever their reasons, none of them want to be trapped in Scooba – there’s no glamour to be found here – but each player knows that the junior college game is their only opportunity for redemption, the final chance they’ll have to get spotted, to resurrect their careers.

Despite the unlikelihood of an NFL career, the football’s the easy part, as EMCC regularly trounce opponents. The bigger challenge is maintaining standards in the classroom, where many players – who have coasted through high school as star athletes – threaten to come unstuck.

Last Chance U ()

 

Several scenes are set in the office of Brittany Wagner (below), the school’s Athletic Academic Advisor, who’s charged with the at-times impossible task of getting the players to apply themselves to schoolwork. Her relationship between the players, and her tough-love approach, shows them at their most unguarded; a juxtaposition to their on-pitch machismo.

Then there’s head coach Buddy Stephens, whose firebrand methods and touchline antics may win football matches, but also make EMCC one of football’s most fiercely disliked teams.

Ms Wagner Last Chance U ()

 

The documentary catches the players at their most candid. Exposing the guts-out physical and psychological brutality of growing up a footballer, and profiling a subsection of a sport rarely caught on film.

It makes essential and at times agonising viewing. You know that the footballers need to excel in the classroom, and so you find yourself getting mad at them when they decide to skip class. You cheer when they win, and check Google immediately after the final episode to find out what became of each of them. 

Watch Last Chance U on Netflix now

Digital Magazine