NEW YORK — The East Mississippi Community College Lions are back as the documentary series “Last Chance U” returns for a second season.
All eight episodes of season two will be available on Netflix starting Friday.
The first season of the documentary by director Greg Whiteley chronicled the ups and downs of the junior college football team’s 2015 season and turned out to be hit that reached well beyond hardcore sports fans and drew people to Scooba, Mississippi.
“When we were filming season two, every week there was somebody showing up, and frequently they were from overseas,” director Greg Whiteley said in a phone interview with the AP on Thursday. “I remember there was this one couple from Scotland. They were on their honeymoon. There was another couple that came from Australia. These are people, they have Netflix accounts overseas, they watched the series and loved it. Didn’t know anything about American football. Didn’t care anything about American football, but just wanted to come to Scooba, Mississippi, and meet some of these people they fell in love with.”
Junior college football teams are typically stocked with players talented enough to be playing in Division I, but because of issues away from the field — sometimes academics, sometimes behavior problems or legal issues — they end up in small towns hoping to redeem themselves. Rosters turnover drastically from year to year so there are plenty of new faces at “Last Chance U” in season two.
Two of the biggest stars from the series are back.
Brittany Wagner returns as the pencil-pushing, strong-willed academic adviser who often stole the show, though 2016 turns out to be her last season with EMCC. Wagner left the school earlier this year to take a marketing job in Birmingham, Alabama, and then started her own academic consulting firm called 10 Thousand Pencils.
Blustery coach Buddy Stephens is back and hoping for some redemption of his own, Whiteley said.
“He really felt as though, I didn’t like what I saw in season one and I didn’t like what I saw in me. I need to make some changes,” Whiteley said about Stephens’ receptiveness to another season of being followed by cameras.
Whiteley and his crew demand lots of unfettered access and time. He said East Mississippi was once again happy to accommodate.
“Buddy knows the price of poker,” said Whiteley, who has done documentaries on the punk band New York Dolls, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the education system in the United States. “We make it a stipulation wherever we go that we get access to the locker room to the team meeting to the coaches’ meeting. We’re allowed to film all that. Buddy was more than willing to agree to those terms both in season one and season two and I suspect if we ever want to go back there, he’d be open to it.”
Whiteley said he did not go into the project thinking it would produce more than one season, but the stories were simply too rich to let go.
“The season ended with a fight and so we knew they were going to have to begin the next season with one arm tied behind their back in the first game. We thought that would be interesting,” Whiteley said. “We also felt Buddy might be on a bit of a hot seat. For a coach that has experience as much success as he’s experienced to have the season end the way it did, we were curious to see how would he react to that? What would his story arc be?”
The Lions also had a new starting quarterback last season, with a well-told back story that was only touched on in season one.
De’Andre Johnson was a high-profile recruit at Florida State who was dismissed from the team after video revealed that he struck a woman in a bar. He sat out 2015 in Scooba, but played well in 2016. He then signed with coach Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic, where he will compete for a starting job this season.
“We wanted to try to fit him into season one and there just wasn’t room,” Whiteley said. “The idea that he was going to be starting now in season two it gave us an excuse to tell that story and we were excited to tell that story.”