ROCHESTER, Minn. — The tenderhearted Brittany Wagner won the hearts of millions of viewers of Netflix’s documentary series, Last Chance U.
The academic counselor at East Mississippi Community College was a breakout superstar on the show because she was able to connect with players from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. She came to their level and got the absolute best out of them.
She wasn’t a magician. Some players disregarded her instruction, but Wagner had a life-changing effect on her guys.
Wagner preached having backup plans. Not just one either. At one point, football is going to be over, and the average NFL career is just more than three years. So, even if a player jumps through all the hoops and makes it to the NFL, there’s only a small period of time where they can make significant chunks of money.
So Wagner wanted her players to be prepared for a life without football.
Those exact conversations are occurring at both Riverland Community College in Austin, Minn., and Rochester Community & Technical College.
The Yellowjackets’ star running back Israel Lozoya is trying to make it to the NFL, but he has multiple backup plans in place.
"There is a lot of help at RCTC,” Lozoya said. “Our advisors are great. But there are a lot of people who don’t take it seriously, sadly. They’re just here to play football. It’s not all about football. You’re there to get your degree, getting your diploma. That’s what you’re going to be given at the end. My goal is to make it to the NFL. But I have Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. You could get hurt and it’s gone.”
Lozoya’s Plan B is owning his own business. He’s starting to cultivate those entrepreneurial skills with his landscaping business that he’s running on the side this summer.
Plan C entails becoming a police officer.
“Football helps me relate with a lot of people,” Lozoya said. “My dad was a cop in Mexico, so I kind of always had respect for cops. Not all of them are bad. Not all of them are good, either. Nobody is perfect. If I was in a situation and my partner is doing something bad, I’m going to call him out right away. The good cops to call out the bad people. That’s how I see it.”
The academic aspect is a huge part of the recruiting tools used by Riverland and RCTC.
It’s talked about on a daily basis. But there’s an easy incentive with grades. No grades, no playing time.
RCTC football has stockpiled its roster with a ton of depth. They really aren't dependent on any one player. It's a privilege to get a chance to play.
“You ask Coach Hintz, he tells all of our returning sophomores, ‘It’s our job as a coaching staff is to replace you with someone better,’” RCTC Offensive Coordinator Stan Bedwell said. “Your job is to not get replaced.”
It’s easy for an athlete to get replaced when their grades aren’t up to a standard.
Plus, the Yellowjackets can point to the past. Guys with the right grades get to move onto the next level.
“For all the sophomores that had grades to transfer out, every single one of them had multiple scholarship offers,” Bedwell said. “Even fourth-string guys.”
Wagner gave the world an inside look at why academic advisors are important. But RCTC and Riverland didn’t need to watch Last Chance U to figure that out. They already knew it.
"We get a lot of kids that are overlooked," said Derek Hahn, Riverland's athletic director, men's basketball coach and baseball coach. "The story and the scenarios are unique and different. It’s a great thing to be a part of. Because when you’re at the end of it, these guys are getting scholarships to really big schools and some getting full rides. You get to see the whole process. You offer them, you have them on campus and you talk about these things and when they get the pot of gold at the end, it’s a unique experience and something they’re very thankful for. Sometimes they wish Riverland was a four-year school because they would’ve rather stayed here and gotten to be a part of this long-term."