Brittany Wagner with student Malik Mayweather
But unlike Sandra Bullock’s tough-talking Leigh Anne Tuohy in 2009’s The Blind Side, Wagner is not framed as the team’s great white savior. A single mother, she’s under enough pressure of her own, and as the person whom college recruiters contact to make sure their picks are in good academic standing, she understands how crucial her role is in making sure these talented, hardworking players don’t miss life-changing opportunities because of one bad grade. The coaches constantly refer to the team as a family — they even pray together before games and practices — but the position of the school’s administrators is not lost on the players. Speaking to the camera alone in his dorm room, D.J. admits it’s hard to know if anyone at the school cares about him as a person and not simply an asset to the college’s athletics program.
Last Chance U is rousing in its depiction of the tightrope the players walk in their final months at EMCC. But the series also nimbly captures the full emotional range of this time in these young men’s lives. During one practice, they have a dance-off, offence vs. defense; when Buddy informs them there are ice-cream sandwiches waiting for them nearby, they sprint for the treats like kids at a birthday party.
Such scenes remind you that despite their tough talk and their physical bulk, these guys are still so young, and carry the weight of so much pressure: To win the game, to graduate, to make it to a D1 school and, eventually, the NFL, to make their parents and their hometowns proud. They can see the hole —they just have to run like hell to get through to the other side.