The wait is finally over...on Friday, July 19, Netflix released the new season of its highly-acclaimed docuseries, “Last Chance U.” Season 4, which is the second series to focus on the Independence Community College Pirates, undertakes a dramatic shift away from the on field drama of a year ago as Indy experienced arguably its best season as a football program.
In lieu of featuring a team that went 9-2, won the first ever bowl game for ICC and claimed the Kansas Jayhawk Conference crown outright, the cameras were forced to pivot elsewhere to cultivate storylines as the year spriralled downward.
The 2018 iteration of the Pirates finished the year 2-8 and controversial Head Coach Jason Brown ended up resigning following an alleged cell phone message exchange with a German student athlete that went viral.
Season 4 of “Last Chance U” begins with nothing but optimism, with a quick review of the 2017 squad’s accomplishments before launching into expectations of a possible undefeated season and the shot at a National Championship.
The first couple of episodes spend time with returning defensive player Bobby Bruce, a fan favorite who had some issues in the offseason which found the Florida product in jail. After rejoining the Pirates this fall, Bruce was involved in an incident in the dorms which led him to being dismissed from the team, all of which happens before the end of episode two.
Another familiar face to fans of the docuseries is Malik Henry, a former Florida State bounce back quarterback who helped to lead the team to great heights in 2017 but was unable to land at any of the four-year schools that held his interest.
At first, Henry is brought in as the scout team QB, but due to some injuries and inconsistent play, Malik is quickly brought back into the fold.
Several new players step into the spotlight in Season 4, including returning wide receiver Markiese King, defensive standout Kailon Davis, quarterbacks Jay Jones and Chase Hildreth, and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Chance Main. The latter is a southeast Kansas area product — having graduated from Cherryvale High School in the spring of 2017 — and represents a dying breed of student-athlete at the junior college level: homegrown talent.
King is electric and charismatic, and fills in nicely for Season 3 breakout star Calvin Jackson, both narratively and in a leadership capacity for the Pirates. Jones represents the most recent high profile quarterback recruit under Brown, having committed to Georgia Tech before ultimately having to take the community college route. Hildreth, who began the season at second string, jumps at the opportunity in a game one win at Dodge City after Jones re-injured a nagging hamstring from the preseason.
Following episode two’s detour into Bruce’s dismissal, the third episode gets back to the action as an eager fan base filled Shulthis Stadium to cheer on Indy in their first home game against Hutchinson. The Blue Dragons did not shy away from the challenge, putting up 37 points in the first half while limiting the home team to just one score on their opening drive. ICC did show some spirit by scoring three touchdowns in the second half, but ran out of time as Hutch held on for the 37-27 win.
Next up, in episode four, Independence hosts Garden City in game three of the season, seeking to right the ship against an emerging rival in GCCC. The 2017 matchup between the two schools was a hotly-contested win for the Pirates that was heavily featured on Season 3 and seemed to stir up some bad blood between Brown and Broncbusters Head Coach Jeff Sims.
This season’s contest was also a close one — an eventual second half, 28-21 comeback win for Garden City — and some postgame comments and celebrations from the visitors led to Coach Brown being restrained in an attempt to go after Sims, which then led to nearly every player from both sides converging near the visitors’ locker room in a mass of padded bodies.
Looking through the lens with the knowledge of how the season turned out, much of the early optimism could also be heavy foreshadowing for the eventual outcome.
Following a rapid decline in outlook and inspiration from Episode 1 to the Pirates’ 1-2 start to the season and thoughts of “Natty or bust” disintegrating, episode five brought a chance for the team to right the ship. ICC hosted the winless Greyhounds from Ft. Scott in week 5, and were looking to bounce back after a heartbreaking comeback loss at the hands of Garden City.
One of the recurring themes of the new season of “Last Chance U” is the seeming lack of leadership and accountability. Later in the series, Head Coach Jason Brown begins firing coaches and releasing players in an effort to excise the cancer dragging the team down. Episode 5, entitled “The Hangover,” began to reveal many of the blemishes that had perhaps been covered up by the fact that the team was winning a year ago.
Whether it be the lack of followthrough from assistants in doing curfew or class checks, Brown stepping in midseason to overhaul the defense — having already taken on offensive playcalling duties in addition to all of his other responsibilities as Head Coach — or team dissent concerning who the starting quarterback should be, it all proved to be an easy narrative for the camera crews to follow as the year progressed.
The Ft. Scott game highlighted many of those aspects, as all four quarterbacks on the roster played throughout the game. That is not necessarily unheard of, but considering no one was injured in-game, the QB carousel was confusing to even fans in the crowd. None of the shuffling turned out to be successful, as the offense stalled altogether and Ft. Scott dominated in a 33-0 victory.
Amongst the many things exposed in the shutout defeat, 2017’s starting signal caller, Malik Henry, quickly regressed into his old ways of questioning the coaches on the sideline and distancing himself from the team. Anointed 2018 starter Jay Jones also had issues with the rotation, and at one point as Brown called for Jones to grab his helmet and return to the lineup, he purposefully avoided going back in and the Pirates had to turn to true freshman Antoine “AJ” Wright after Chase Hildreth struggled in the second half.
A reminder of the sacrifice that these young men inflict on their bodies is also brought front and center, as featured sophomore wide receiver Markiese King appears to suffer a concussion yet returns to the field. King loses control after the game and has to be restrained by teammates outside of the ICC locker room, an incident which we find out in episode six that he doesn’t even recall.
The appropriately titled “S Show” includes both the road loss to Iowa Western — which saw Brown ejected for arguing with officials — as well as the subsequent home defeat at the hands of rival Coffeyville as Assistant Coach Kiyoshi Harris stepped in with Brown serving a one-game suspension.
The penultimate episode, “Famous Forever,” turned the lens back on the community, as boosters and members of the community at large began to question the madness of the methods. On a larger scale, the episode brings to light an unfortunate side effect of the “Last Chance U” brand, in which players on a losing program become more likely to play just for themselves in an effort to get more time on the field and more film for potential suitors at the next level. Independence suffers through their eighth straight loss at Highland and Season 4 breakout defensive star Kailon Davis goes down after a tackle and takes what seems like forever to respond to Head Athletic Trainer Raechal Martin. Davis is eventually removed via stretcher and gives Pirate Nation two thumbs up.
The season finale includes Indy snapping their losing skid, a thrilling overtime home win over Ellsworth to finish the year 2-8 — and just 1-6 in KJCCC play after winning the conference title in 2017. However, the main story of episode 8 is already familiar to the majority of the local community. Coach Brown finds himself in hot water after a text message exchange between himself and a German student-athlete and is forced to resign. Cameras capture Brown using coarse language throughout, but an interesting wrinkle in the finale is that Brown is recorded using the “Hitler” epithet a couple of times directly to the German young man.
Jason Brown unquestionably increased the profile of the football program at Independence Community College, and arguably left it in a much better state than when he arrived with the addition of the turf practice facility, weight room and coaches’ offices. What the series does not show is the fallout, with news of Brown being charged with 10 criminal charges in relation to emails sent to IDR, the Montgomery County Chronicle, Steve McBride and former Assistant Coach Jake Bugg.
Brown was also not the last to go, and while the football program and the spotlight of “Last Chance U” may not have swayed the decisions of former ICC President Dan Barwick and former Athletic Director Tammie Romstad, the simple fact that none of those three will be on campus this fall perhaps means that we will never know.