October 2, 2016

LAST CHANCE BILL (profanity alert):

The Patriots Overpower the NFL With Blount Force : The punishing style of 29-year-old running back LeGarrette Blount is the ideal fit for New England's late game strategy (TOM PERROTTA, Sept. 30, 2016, WSJ)

In an NFL of quick passes and speedy drives, Blount is the master of patient, deliberate progress. He doesn't buckle opponents' knees with spins or cuts. He needs time to get up to speed, and even then he won't outrun defenders for long. Blount's flashiest move is hurdling tacklers, like he did against Miami Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell during a 26-yard run in week two. But that's not a habit.

"It's just a reaction," Blount said. "You can get hurt that way."

Rather than leaping, lunging or spinning, Blount prefers to keep his balance, charge through holes and tire out defenders. He says his strategy isn't that difficult with a line like the Patriots have this year.

"The offensive line wears [defenses] down a lot, way more so than I do," he said. "They hit them every play, I don't. After three quarters or a half of that, I mean, nobody really wants to play after you get beat up on. You have to take advantage of it, every opportunity."

The Patriots are the ideal team for Blount because they get ahead in almost every game and then ask him to run the clock and pile on a few more points. In 36 games with New England, he has 1,000 yards on 214 carries and 11 touchdowns when the Patriots are ahead by six points or more, according to Stats LLC.

"He's not somebody that you're going to be able to bring down with an arm tackle, somebody's definitely got to put a body on him," said Patriots defensive end Geneo Grissom. "LeGarrette's a big guy, and to watch all that weight move that fast is exciting."

Pats defensive end Chris Long has played against Blount before.

"Seeing somebody walk by me that's the same size as me and saying, 'Hey, he made it as a running back,'--it's like, 'How'd you do it?'" Long said. "I've been on other teams when I played LeGarrette and it certainly catches your attention. Sometimes you just say a prayer."

It's no surprise that Blount has received little praise for his contributions. He spent two years at East Mississippi Community College before transferring to Oregon as a junior. After a stellar season, Blount lost his cool in the opening game of his senior year, when he punched a Boise State player. He was suspended and eventually reinstated, but had few carries the rest of the year. Blount was not drafted.

'Last Chance U' is compelling and brutal : Netflix documentary follows a junior college football team as it aims for a national championship (Jerry Bembry, July 29, 2016, Undefeated)

When Greg Whiteley was first approached about doing a documentary on junior college football, the Los Angeles-based film director scouted California schools with no success. Then someone sent him a GQ magazine article about East Mississippi Community College, located in a town so rural that the closest Walmart is a 45-minute drive away.

He just might be the first person to ever rush to Scooba, Mississippi.

"We go there for the first time, it's in the middle of nowhere, and it's perfect," Whiteley said. "It was a place where something great was happening."

The story of that place is Last Chance U, a six-part documentary series that drops Friday on Netflix. It's a binge-worthy, behind-the-scenes look at the 2015 season of the East Mississippi football team and its quest to win its third straight National Junior College Athletic Association championship.

Last Chance U (DREW JUBERA, October 21, 2014, GQ)

The landscape is drunk Faulkner: small and spooky and piss-poor. Piney woods run deep enough to hide whatever you don't want found. What passes for the old downtown is one side of one block. Five brick buildings still stand; another four are gone, just disappeared, as if by cremation--nothing left but rubble and little piles of red dust. Drive by most days and the only open business is a working Coke machine on the sidewalk. All of which makes the little Mississippi town of Scooba--population 732, per capita income $11,355--an improbable center of anything. Yet less than a mile west of that blown-away vista, a spick-and-span football complex rises taller and shinier than anything you'll find between here and the nearest Walmart, forty miles away. The 6,000-seat stadium features artificial turf, a double-decker press box, and a giant video scoreboard. Wrapped across the team's equipment truck, parked nearby for anyone rolling past on Highway 16 to see: your story starts here.

It's the home of the East Mississippi Community College Lions, junior-college national champions two of the past three years and current center of the juco football universe. This lonesome outpost of 1,200 students near the Alabama line has also become an unlikely pipeline to the teams that millions of fans watch on Saturdays and Sundays.

Twenty-two of the Lions' twenty-four graduating sophomores last season signed with Division I schools. This year's starting quarterback at Ole Miss, nickelback at Nebraska, defensive linemen at Alabama and Florida--as well as early commits to Florida State and Oklahoma--all bubbled up from Scooba. So did five players who were in NFL camps this summer.

Meanwhile, East Mississippi's rivals are furiously stockpiling their own talent, their own rosters full of would-be stars whose stories have to start somewhere--even if "somewhere" is the middle of nowhere.

To local existentialists, it makes perfect sense. "There's a lot to offer in Scooba, Mississippi. Want to know what it is?" Nick Clark, a white-haired former Lion who works in the school's development office, asks me from across his desk.

I allow that I am totally stumped.

"There are no distractions!"

A few minutes later, defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley picks me up outside in a golf cart. As we motor across the low-slung campus to meet with head coach Buddy Stephens, breezing past oaks and crape myrtles and half-assed architecture, Lesley espouses his own take on Scooba's allure.

"If you don't cut pines or hunt, there's no reason to be here," he says, a summer sun blazing above us. "Unless you play football. And need the grades."

Posted by at October 2, 2016 7:50 AM