Laney College – Junior college situated just east of the world renowned San Francisco in the heart of the blue collar, hardworking, yet cultured up and coming city of Oakland, California. This college was featured in the most recent season of the well-acclaimed Netflix documentary series Last Chance U, a show that follows junior college football firsthand.
While the Laney College Eagles have had their fair share of players who have gone on to transfer to prestigious colleges and even make the NFL, it has never been the most talked about junior college.
This is not a college where one can expect to find anything in the way of dorms, on-campus life, or the country’s top athletic recruits. In fact, many of the players come from adverse backgrounds. The players have a large chip on their shoulder and are out to prove that they are worthy of Division I football offers. This is also not a team that draws players from across the country. Unlike most colleges the majority of the team members are locals dealing with ongoing issues particularly prevalent in the Bay Area, like gentrification .
The series starts out showing the 2018 Laney College Eagles in the final seconds as they beat Ventura College 40-35 to win their first California Community College Athletic Association Football Championship in program history. This past year they put themselves on the map as a premiere junior college football program in the country. The Last Chance U film crew followed them in their pursuit of repeat success during the 2019 season.
The Eagles are led by renowned head coach John Beam, who has turned down Division I coaching offers over the years to continually give back to the Oakland community. His fame was first established while coaching at Oakland’s Skyline High School in the 1980’s where he saw huge success, sending over 100 football players to the Division I level. He has continued to bring this winning legacy with him to Laney College.
Considered the godfather of Oakland football, Coach Beam’s old school but sympathetic personality comes to light in the show. He imposes strict rules for the team such as no tolerance for players who miss the team bus or who are late for classes. At the same time he shows great compassion and understanding for these players in their everyday struggles as he does everything he can to help provide mental health for each member of the team, many of whom are suffering from PTSD due to their rough upbringings. What has kept Beam in Oakland for almost all of his 40 years of coaching despite other offers is how he has woven so well into the community. “Guys who are looking for their next job, where is their loyalty to?” asks Beam. He sees his future calling him to positively impact generation after generation of players in Oakland.
This show focuses on the lives of four of Beam’s players, each facing adversities of their own.
Dior Walker Scott (wide receiver/quarterback): A star receiver with a humble, resilient personality and work ethic. When the team loses three quarterbacks to injury after the first week Scott is turned from receiver to fourth string quarterback. He embraces his role despite worries by coaches that his Division I scholarship future could be hurt by him not playing wide receiver. As he is leading the team however, he must deal with horrors he is facing off the field. He is without a home, sleeping in his car while working 8-12 night shifts at WingStop. He also has an abusive past with his father, a story hard for him to tell throughout. His ability to remain persistent through all of this is what helps lead the team in a big way.
Nu’u Taugavau (offensive lineman): Just before showing up to play for Laney this 6’2, 300 pound lineman was checking receipts at Walmart. While he has been a stud football player, going to college was not exactly part of his vision until the opportunity at Laney turned up. Part of this has had to do with his continual academic struggles as someone who saw football as his way back into school rather than school as his alternate path to football. In addition to academics he faces the challenge of trying to make ends meet to support his family. He is a father of two kids, having his first kid at just the age of 17.
Rejzohn Wright (cornerback): The top community college defensive back in the state, Wright seeks to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Nahshon Wright who also played at Laney the previous season, and transferred to play Division I football at Oregon State University. Despite his stardom and family legacy his life has been anything but handouts. He wakes up at 5:30 every morning and commutes nearly two hours from his family home in Stockton, California because like many of the other players, Oakland has gotten too expensive for his family to live in. Wright has also had to go through hardship in his family as his dad was shot when he was just 16 trying to break up a fight. He has been able to use his dad as motivation to carry on but will an ankle injury week seven threaten his future football career?
R.J. Stern (wide receiver): The grandson of world renowned fantasy writer Marion Zimmer Bradley (author of The Mists of Avalon), Stern is the first of his type as a football player in a family of writers. He comes from a family with an unstable upbringing and has struggled to feel cared for throughout his life. While he finds football as a positive escape some of the same struggles happen on the football field. He feels undervalued as a player both because his quarterback doesn’t throw to him as often as he thinks he should and because he does not have the best relationship with Coach Beam.
The series goes deep and personal into every aspect of the players everyday lives on the field, in the classroom, at work, and at home. It does an excellent job drawing parallels between the grind of trying to make it as a junior college football player and trying to make ends meet in the Bay Area. This is the fifth part of the series that is currently available for streaming on Netflix.