When film-makers went to the sleepy town of Scooba in Mississippi they expected their documentary to be about gifted athletes, but the Netflix series, Last Chance U, is about education, class, success and the American dream
The tiny town of Scooba sits in Kemper County in the vast state of Mississippi. Its quiet streets are home to under a thousand permanent residents and there is little excitement to be found. An isolated Subway sandwich shop is the social hub. East Mississippi Community College stands incongruously in Scoobas streets. The college houses some of the countrys finest student American football players who dream of making the NFL. They find themselves in sleepy Scooba for two reasons: their grades arent up to scratch or they need more playing time to prove themselves to larger colleges. For almost all of the players on the Lions playing roster, this is their last chance at football redemption.
Adam Ridley was working as a film director when he came across a magazine article about a team of incredible college prodigies who were toiling on the hot fields in Scooba in search of stardom. I read up about this team and the more I thought about it the more fascinated I became. You have these incredible high school athletes, that for whatever reason things havent worked out for them, whether thats in the classroom or on the field, so they come to this tiny little town of Scooba to try and turn things around. We knew we had to do something.
The series executive producer, Greg Whiteley, and Ridley spent the 2015 season following the Lions, gaining access to the players, the coaches and the academic advisors. Originally, he and his team came expecting a story that was focused on the rosters incredible athletic ability but the story unfolding was something different. Throughout the season, we saw the players incredible abilities on the field, but we also began to understand what they were dealing with off the field. It was a story that went far beyond football. Like all college athletes, they have basic academic requirements and for some this was an incredible struggle. It was difficult to watch these players a lot of them are from difficult backgrounds where theyve received little to no academic support and the staff here have to work hard to fill that gap, or the dreams of big schools in the NCAA or the NFL are gone.
Ridley and his team produced a groundbreaking series on a season with the Lions on Netflix and called it Last Chance U. There are stars on the football field, but the star that seems to shine brightest in the series is the players academic advisor Brittany Wagner. Part psychologist, part academic tutor and part surrogate mother for the players, Wagner works to help the players achieve the requisite academic goals that previously were seen as unachievable.
Starting work here, I had to keep telling myself: youre from a different background and a different place. Dont be quick to judge these players if they dont do an assignment. I forced myself to listen. In many cases, they have the most incredible athletic gifts, but they arrive here with their confidence in academics absolutely shot. Theyve been these high school heroes as athletes and pushed through the academic system with little accountability.