Football finally kicks off this weekend with the annual Hall of Fame Game from Canton, Ohio.
If your football fix won’t be satisfied with a glorified NFL scrimmage, well, Netflix may be able to help.
A new six-episode series called ‘Last Chance U’ debuted on the streaming service last week.
A grittier version of NBC’s critically-acclaimed ‘Friday Night Lights,’ this Netflix series chronicles a season with a powerhouse junior college football program in rural Mississippi and shines quite a light on the flaws of college athletics.
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(Friday Night Lights is also on Netflix and will also satisfy many football cravings. Texas Forever.)
As the title suggests, this may be the last chance for many of these athletes.
Some do not seem to grasp that reality.
Brittany Wagner is one of the breakout stars of the series because she obviously does.
The academic advisor at East Mississippi Community College, Wagner is shown from the onset cajoling many of these football players to just try and do the bare minimum.
Simply going to class, Wagner points out, is one of the biggest problems she faces. Even when her players make it to their classroom, many of them are shown coming to her for pencils or notepads.
Few want to be stuck playing football at a community college, it’s said time and again. Yet this is where they are. Getting out, and to truly get out one needs to be academically eligible, is the key.
“I can’t do my job and the guys report today,” Wagner said Friday morning as she made her commute to the EMCC campus in Scooba, Mississippi – population 708.
“I’m not complaining. But I have five interviews today and 500 emails to answer. At some point, I have to get fall schedules done. Don’t misunderstand me; this is a good problem to have.”
The player who got the most out of last season wasn’t shown in the most favorable light.
Quarterback John Franklin III transferred to East Mississippi after two seasons of not playing at Florida State.
Seeing he wouldn’t find playing time with the Seminoles in 2015 after Everett Golson transferred in from Notre Dame, the former South Plantation standout left Tallahassee.
East Mississippi came into 2015 riding a 24-game winning streak as the two-time defending national Juco champions.
The team’s offense is so potent, the Juco league the Lions compete in put in a mercy rule which brings a running clock in the second half because of the beatdowns EMCC puts on people.
Franklin thought he would be the starting quarterback for the Lions and move on to big-time college football as many before him (Chad Kelly started at EMCC before moving on to Mississippi) did.
Yet Franklin didn’t separate himself from Wyatt Roberts during fall practices and the two went into the season as alternates.
Franklin didn’t seem to handle it all that well.
Franklin was caught ripping into the coaching staff for some of their very questionable play calling and was shown as someone who didn’t want to be where he was.
Wagner knows where he was coming from and feels the negative reaction now pouring down on Franklin is unfair.
“He left Florida State to come here and had every expectation to play every down without even having to compete for the job,” Wagner said. “That was kind of the plan; come here, play and in six months, go wherever. Then he had to battle with Wyatt and he had to reassure himself. He was just trying to get everyone to believe he was good enough to go somewhere else. It had to be a scary moment for him.”
Yet Franklin got his biggest break in what would be the Lions’ final game when Roberts got hurt.
In the first half of a game against Mississippi Delta CC, Franklin accounted for almost 300 yards and six touchdowns in a game ended after a benches-clearing brawl before halftime.
Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was at the game and offered Franklin a scholarship.
Franklin is now at Auburn camp and may be the opening day starter for the Tigers next month.
Unfortunately for Franklin, ‘Last Chance U’ came out last week.
Joe Goodman, formerly of the Miami Herald, wrote about Franklin and junior college football for AL.com on Thursday.
Writes Goodman: “The new quarterback at Auburn University apparently is a backbiting, womanizing, selfish, egotistical, uninspiring, feckless twit who last year wasn't good enough to start at a community college in Mississippi.
“That's how the creators of "Last Chance U," a new documentary on Netflix, chose to portray John Franklin III during his time last season with East Mississippi Community College. Franklin is the junior college transfer many believe will start for Auburn this season. Is the show's characterization of Franklin fair and accurate? Let's hope not for Auburn's sake.”
Although Franklin was shown disagreeing with Wagner in her office after he was caught having a female visitor in his dorm room, she says he was never disrespectful to her and did everything asked of him academically.
“He never missed a class, had great grades and was very dependable,” Wagner said. “He comes from a great family, is a great guy and will be a great representative for Auburn. They can depend on him. He will do everything they ask. I hate that it wasn't portrayed that way.
“I don’t think he was being disrespectful. He is just strong-willed, has his own opinions. That’s good. He doesn't just go with the flow and doesn’t let people run him over. I never felt he was disrespectful, I just think he was frustrated.”
Buddy Stephens, the Lions’ coach who also doesn’t come out looking too great, told Goodman: "It's pretty revealing on who John is, and what kind of player he is and what kind of person he is."
Wagner says Netflix warned there would be plenty of attention heaped upon herself and others in the series although they didn’t think it would hit for a little bit longer.
“This is crazy,” she said. “I’m not used to this. I’m just an academic consultant from Mississippi. What did we get ourselves into? They say this could only get bigger. I don’t know how that could be.”
When Wagner went to bed Thursday night – when the series debuted on Netflix – she says she had 171 followers on Twitter. “I knew them all,” she said. “They were all friends.”
A week later, and her Twitter list has grown close to 7,000.
“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,’’ Wagner said. “Friday morning, things exploded. Snoop Dog has tweeted about it, NFL players. It has been overwhelming.”
Football returns to East Mississippi this weekend with Wagner racing to school Friday to finish up fall schedules. Practice begins this weekend.
There have been rumors Nexflix will return to Eastern Mississippi, yet as of Thursday morning, there were no cameras to be found.
If the cameras do return, Wagner says they’ll find plenty of similarities to last year’s group.
There are knuckleheads, quiet guys, good students and bad.
Wagner says the 2016 has been on campus for summer school and she “loves them, but they are no different from every other group we’ve had.”
Whether this group gets to have their breakout moment in front of the cameras remains to be seen.
“I knew [Last Chance U] was good, I knew it was well done and I was proud of it,” said Wagner, who grew up in Mississippi and has lived there all but three years when she worked at Jacksonville State in Alabama.
“I didn’t know how many people around the world would connect with me, connect with the players the way they have. I’ve had emails from Australia, Sweden, France, Brazil, you name it.
“But the best thing I’ve heard is from teachers who were ready to give up. They said they were inspired and will try and reach their students a different way. Those stories, to me, are just amazing and they are inspiring.”