With her Southern charm firmly in place, Brittany Wagner this summer became the face of junior college football.
The unquestioned star of the acclaimed Netflix documentary “Last Chance U,” Wagner won over the hearts of viewers who watched the six-part series as swiftly as she did East Mississippi Community College players she advised who were desperately trying to make it to – or back to – big time college football.
The series was raw, real, fun to watch, hard to watch, but amazingly binge-worthy in a you-can’t-look-away kind of way. And somewhere between the bravado of coach Buddy Stevens (“I think he’s passionate about what he does," Wagner told me. "He is an emotional person and he is kind of a control freak, which I think most coaches are.”), the frustration and desperation of Lions players, the violence and angst of football and the quaintness of tiny Scooba, Miss., stood this mighty-mite with the Southern drawl, giggle and genuine compassion for the players under her watch.
Technically, Wagner is an “athletic instructional advisor/compliance assistant” at the school. In reality, she is friend, team mom, adviser, confidant and motivator. And she became a hero to college football fans everywhere.
All of this is why we wanted to meet her, introduce her to the radio audience and see what makes this amazing woman tick. I invited her on my afternoon drive radio show on 1010XL in Jacksonville on Tuesday, realizing she is inundated with such requests. It made for a fun, heart-warming, wonderful afternoon.
"It’s been crazy, I couldn’t have dreamed it up in a million years,” Wagner said when asked about her newfound celebrity.
Wagner had an interesting reaction to seeing the documentary.
“It was a little tough to watch it back," Wagner said. "Mostly because it wasn’t the season of football that we anticipated. (The 2015 season) is not something that we’ve ever experienced here. The drama that unfolded during the season, it was just hard to watch.
"The football season itself didn’t end how we wanted and really the recruitment of a lot of players and the academic side of it didn’t really end how we wanted it, either. Having lived it and known the outcome, you’re prepared to see it and you’re prepared to see what comes next.”
Like it or not, "Last Chance U" was true to life.
“It was a very real depiction and I was very proud of it," Wagner said. "I don’t feel like it was induced or fake in any way; I feel like it was a very real depiction of our season.”
Throughout the series, we feel Wagner's frustration as an educator constantly cajoling her student-athletes to take the first word of that description as seriously as the second. She made no attempt hide her emotions.
“It’s frustrating. I’m not going to even try to act like it’s not," Wagner said. "This will be my eighth football season this fall and it’s been frustrating for seven years. It’s the same issues every year it seems like. It’s just different faces.
“There’s frustration with the students, there’s frustration in the adults, there’s frustration with the system, there’s frustration in education in America in general. I think the frustration goes beyond making the player go to class.
“The moments of success, however small they may be, those are the moments that you take with you, those are the moments that pull you up and those are the moments that outweigh the frustration.”
You can listen to the complete interview below.
(You can follow Frank Frangie on Twitter @Frank_Frangie)
© 2016, Frank Frangie. All rights reserved.
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