“Last Chance U” – The 5th Down UK review


Last Chance U is the story of the 2015 Eastern Mississippi Community College Lions.

The Lions are no ordinary team, having won 3 national championships under head coach Buddy Stephens in the previous 4 years.

They are also extraordinary in that they accept student athletes that no one else wants – a team of misfits and outcasts. And they don’t just beat everyone – they thump everyone. To make it to a National Championship, you need a perfect season with the biggest point spread. It’s because of this that they are also the most hated team in the state.

If you, like us, are mourning the end of the recent “All or Nothing” Amazon series, then this is the wrong place – you’ll have to wait for the upcoming “Hard Knocks” series for an inside look at the world of professional athletes. Last Chance U has more in kin with  Friday Night Lights, or the superb Oscar winning documentary Undefeated.

Outside of the draft, there is little coverage of top College football in the UK, so it’s likely few are aware of the Junior College system. These colleges offer students a 2 year, post-high school education. Most Ju-Co students will receive a vocational associate degree and head off to work, others will go on to a bigger University to complete a full degree. Ju-Co athletes meanwhile, are looking to get a scholarship at a Division 1 University that for some reason eluded them in previous years. Top talents like DJ Law and Ronald Ollie didn’t have the grades, while QB John Franklin III transferred from Florida State for an opportunity to play football.

Set in the rundown backdrop of Scooba, Mississippi, we meet the young men who hope the 2015 Ju-Co season will provide them with one final chance of a pro-football career. They need to make the grades, and win another National Championship to gain the attention of the big College scouts. Don’t expect to love these kids – they are equally frustrating and obnoxious as they are talented. Don’t expect to love Buddy Stephens – he is as explosive and divisive as he is ambitious. But you will fall for the story, especially as the show reaches the 3rd act which is teased in the opening scenes of episode 1.

The real star of the show is Brittany Wagner, the college Academic Advisor who has to chase these athletes around campus to ensure they make class, make grades, and make the field. Just as Coach Taylor’s wife Tami was the star of Friday Night Lights, Wagner is the heart beat of the College, and the only reason Coach Stephens is able to field a full roster each week.


The production quality of the show is superb, with the EMCC marching band providing a poignant sense of local community. The features on the people of Scooba are inspired inclusions; with accents so thick that half of the series requires sub-titles, seeing behind the scenes at Scooba reinforces just how important this school is to a deprived area of Mississippi (although one of the featured Scooba residents does seem to be an Eddie Murphy character from Coming to America – see if you can spot the resemblance!). What the series does miss though is the other side of the College sports system, how the school is able to afford such top class facilities in such a poor area of the country – often it seems the Lions wear a sparkling new uniform in every game, which contrasts badly with how deprived the town of Scooba is, and the social background of most of the players.

Overall, Last Chance U is a fascinating piece, which grows the recent trend of extremely high quality documentary series on the game of football. After watching All or Nothing, this series is essential watching to see how difficult it can be just to make it to the top.

You can find Last Chance U on Netflix


5th Down UK interviews… Steffan Powell

In the 2nd of our series of interviews with UK NFL fans, we spoke to Steffan Powell; reporter and presenter for Newsbeat, BBC Radio 1, and 1 Xtra.


How did you fall in love with Football?

When I was growing up there was a TV show on Channel 4 every Saturday morning called BLITZ! Presented by the wonderfully sarcastic Gary Imlach. It had highlights of the weeks action and I immediately loved the colourful kits, mascots and helmets. I would have been around 8 or 9 then. The more I watched the more I fell in love with how dramatic the sport is; the big hits, hail mary’s and last gasp victories. Finding Madden (1996 I think was my first) then cemented my love of the sport for ever more.

Who’s your team, and why?

I’ve always been and always will be an Oakland Raiders fan! It all started because my big sister had a Raiders jumper (that I stole and wore myself obviously). 250px-oakland_raiders-svgI also loved the Raiders logo and mascot growing up. It also helped that while in secondary school the team was doing really well! Rich Gannon, Tim Brown, Bill Romanowski and the Woodsons were great to watch! Learning more about the history of the team as well has been fun. It’s cool to follow a team with such a tradition of being mavericks and outsiders. I’ve seen some good times (AFC titles in the early 2000s) and the bad times (Andrew Walter anyone?).

What is your favourite footballing memory?

My favourite footballing memory is not actually NFL related – it’s lifting a national trophy as defensive co-ordinator for the Cardiff University Cobras. But in NFL terms my favourite footballing memory is getting to see the Raiders play in the flesh at Wembley – I’d been following the team for more than 15 years by then so that was pretty cool even if they did get a beatdown!

Who is your favourite player of all time?

Charles Woodson is my favourite player of all time. He was a star when I first really followed and got to know the sport and was a top pro ever since. 800px-charles_woodson_2014_2I also played (I use that term in the loosest sense of the word!) in the secondary for my team, so have always loved safeties and corners! As well as being the top player in two positions and winning the Lombardi trophy, Woodson was class act off the field. Rich Gannon, Rod Woodson and Ray Lewis would also be in the mix for me.

And your favourite player currently playing?

Controversially I might have to opt for a non-Raider here… I adore watching Aaron Rodgers play football. His goofy persona and skill set makes him eminently likeable in my eyes. The way he evades pressure and slings the ball downfield, without being a freak athlete like Cam Newton, is fun to watch. He’s the NFL equivalent of an old sharpshooting cowboy in the wild west making trick shots with his pistol for money.

With the elite quarterbacks either retiring, or in their 30s, who is the next superstar?

This one’s easy! Derek Carr. 800px-derek_carr_2015He’s already an efficient, competent pocket passer and he’s not even scratched the surface of his potential. He makes good decisions and has a big arm. Now with more confidence he’ll start making even more big plays. It helps that he has an ever improving cast of players around him. Watch him blossom into an elite quarterback in the NFL soon. Not that i’m biased of course…

You were a coach at university?

I played corner for the Cardiff University Cobras and captained the team but I blew out my ACL at the start of my 3rd year. jjbciwe7_400x400I loved the game and the guys I played with so much that I hung around and coached. Starting as assistant DB coach and ending up as DC. University teams in the UK are better on the ground than passing so we ran a mean 3-5 defence! In 2011 we won the second tier national title – easily the proudest moment of my football life (we shutout the opposition in the final as well!).

If we get a team in the UK, can you see UK universities starting up their own football programmes?

I think there are around 80 universities in the UK that have football teams at the moment. Obviously they’re no way comparable to US university programmes. I can’t see that changing much either to be honest even with a franchise coming here. University sport in the UK is just not the same as the US because you can become professional at any age. NCAA eligibility rules, and how they work with the NFL, are part of the reason college football is so big in the US. But what it will do is increase the visibility of the sport in the UK which should help those 80 teams get access to better funding and facilities – something I know that lots of them struggle with at times.

What do you think has to happen for us to get a London franchise? Would it have to be an Eastern divisional team?

I don’t think it does. Given it seems the owners don’t want another expansion of the league, to get a London franchise it’ll most likely have to be a relocation. I think therefore that whichever team is most suited to relocate will come here – regardless of which division they’re in.

With that in mind, if we were to get a UK-based team should the draft extend out to this country?

I think it’s good news that international players are now starting to get drafted. However it should only be on merit. If we see that, with a team here, more young people are taking up the sport and are good enough to get drafted then that’s great. The league has tried to artificially place foreign talent into squads before and they didn’t quite make it. Therefore we should wait until the players are good enough.

And finally, if a younger Steffan were to be drafted in the 2016 draft what position would you play?

Corner. They used to call me shutdown Steffan*

*Disclaimer – no-one called me that…

You can follow Steffan on Twitter at @SteffanPowell

“All or Nothing” – The 5th Down UK review

If “Hard Knocks” is the Odell Beckham of the NFL Films roster, then the recent arrival of “All or Nothing” must be Jerry Rice. Quite simply, All or Nothing can only be described as Hard Knocks with big boy pants on.


Following a similar style to the now familiar Hard Knocks, the documentary series chooses one team, and instead of following them through the pre-season, it broke ground by going deep behind the scenes with the Arizona Cardinals for the whole of the 2015 season. The one criticism of Hard Knocks has been the questionable quality of the teams involved; not so with this series – the Cards were hot favourites for a deep playoff run in 2015, if not favourites to go all the way.

The choice of the Cardinals was inspired – they were coming off a season of heartache, having had their 2014 hopes crushed by decimating injuries at QB, resulting in a post-season thumping. They also boasted a roster littered with fascinating personalities, and a star turn in the incredible Head Coach, Bruce Arians.

You could probably make an 8 part documentary just about Arians’ life story, and it is his wonderful personality and charm that anchors the show throughout the series. The players are very much the supporting cast, but just like Arians ability to find a gem either through the draft, or a veteran via free agency, there are very few busts. The players might play up and relax in equal measure in the presence of the cameras, but their commitment to the cause is never questioned.

The extended schedule of 8 episodes allows us to into the homes of not only the star attractions like Patrick Peterson and Carson Palmer, but also some of the lesser known heroes – guys like Lyle Sendlein, an 8 year veteran who lives year-to-year without ever getting a long term contract, who joins his Dad for a burger in the after-game tailgate. We also get a fleeting glimpse of former British Olympian and 49er Lawrence Okoye, who falls foul of Arians strict parking rules.

The show makes for exhilarating and addictive watching – I binged the whole series over 2 nights, and despite knowing what happened to the Cards in the NFC championship game in January, I found myself on the post-season rollercoaster all over again. Ultimately it’s another heart breaking journey, not just because of the results on the field – watching star safety Tyrann Mathieu go down with a season ending injury is pretty painful, but seeing Arians tearing up, and seeing Mathieu in the locker room and on the sidelines supporting his team mates makes it so much more tragically real.


As with the Cardinals season, this series ends on an emotional note. The near legendary Larry Fitzgerald had put the team on his back against the Packers, but in the final moments of the series, Fitz is left sitting with his back to the locker room following the final game of the season; it’s a poignant but hugely respectful moment for a player destined for the Hall of Fame, but who may have just missed his last chance for glory. Having taken us on the journey for the whole season, this scene is typical of the film makers class and quality to be able to capture such beautiful moments.

All or Nothing is already a must-see for all NFL fans (and we’d recommend it to those who aren’t!) We now await with anticipation what team will get the cameras for this coming season – they’ll have big cleats to follow…..

You can find All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals on Amazon Prime Video.

5thDown Podcast: Episode 4 – The Knights of Farnham

KB & Dubs turn their attention to the British American Football League and hear the remarkable story of the Farnham Knights, a team who were forced to cease operating in 2012. They speak to the head coach who has brought them back to the top division.

Plus, the guys read out your tweets and what you would call a Las Vegas franchise.

5thDown Podcast: Episode 3 – A Texan Tailgate

KB & Dubs speak to Bengals Special Teams Coordinator Darrin Simmons about their visit to London and what makes a good coach. Also joining the show is former Bills WR Donald Jones III and the illness that shortened his promising career. Plus the guys talk Carson Wentz, Michael Bennett, Marshawn Lynch and the CFL Draft.

5th Down UK interviews… Nat Coombs

In the 1st of our series of interviews with UK NFL fans, we spoke to the host of talkSPORT 2’s all new All American Sports Show, and massive NFL fan, Nat Coombs.

How did you fall in love with Football?

As a kid, watching this remarkable technicolour sport on Channel 4, not understanding any of it, but knowing I completely loved it.

Who’s your team, and why?

The Miami Dolphins… because I’m a sucker for pain, and because as a kid they were all about the offense (Marino, Marx brothers) and always gallant, cavalier losers which appealed.

What is your favourite footballing memory?

So many – covering a game in New Orleans at the Superdome was incredible. The SuperBowls I’ve been involved with have been great for various reasons – and the Wembley games I’ve anchored have been a privilege. Looking out over the stadium and digesting that we’ve got regular season games, looking back and seeing say, Jim Kelly sitting 6 feet from me – pretty special.

Favourite of all time?

The 51-45 Jets/Fins game from the 80’s (O’Brien vs Marino) stands out. And I always remember Chad Johnson scoring, putting on the HOF jacket in celebration, as that was my first ever game.

Who is your favourite player of all time?

It has to be Marino, but I loved Jim Kelly too back in the day. Sucker for the flashy receivers so Carter, Marx brothers, TO, Johnson.

Defensively – the Giants front 7 that included Strahan & Osi (have to give my man props!) was great to watch, and the tape I see of the Bears ’85 Defense is stunning. Love for hardcore players too that give everything – like Hines Ward, Anquan Boldin & JJ Watt.

And your favourite player currently playing?

I think right now it’s AJ Green – electrifying and can’t wait till the Bengals come over to Wembley.

With the elite Quarterbacks either retiring or in their 30’s, who is the next superstar?

12 months ago I would have said Andrew Luck, but there’s an element of doubt. Wilson is arguably there. Cam has to be in the mix – he’ll bounce back.

What do you think has to happen for us to get a London franchise, and would it have to be an Eastern divisional team?

I think it would have to be a relocation as I can’t see the owners voting on adding expansion franchises. It would be very interesting to see how it would play out – because the appeal of say 6 regular season games with different teams if possibly as strong for most fans and of course much easier to action long term.

If we get a team in the UK, can you see UK universities starting up their own football programmes?

Many already have of course, though I doubt we’ll get a college circuit like in the US – mainly because of geography and tradition. Though more and more players will get a shot in the NFL, like Efe Obada has.

And finally, if a young Nat were to be drafted in the 2016 draft, what position would you play?

I had a bit of pace when I was younger, so a low round WR gamble – but these days, let’s just say I was made to be a backup QB!

Each week Nat Coombs and guests round up all the action from across the pond, from the NBA to NFL and MLS to NHL, plus everything in between on the talkSPORT 2’s all new All American Sports Show.

You can find the podcasts on talkSPORT & iTunes:

Are Jameis & Marcus the new Peyton & Ryan?

So other than the Titans holding onto their 2nd pick, there weren’t any surprises at the top of last nights draft – as expected the Buccs took Jameis Winston with the number 1 pick, and Marcus Mariota will be strutting his stuff in Nashville as the number 2 pick. In an interesting twist of fate, we’ll be able to compare them pretty quickly, as the Buccs face the Titans in Week 1.

Winston and Mariota are not the 1st pair of QBs to be taken with the opening picks of the draft, but its only happened 5 times before…. and history says that one of these guys isn’t going to make it:

Andrew Luck went #1 to the Indianapolis Colts, and has his side a real title contender.
RG3 went #2 (via a big pick trade with the Rams) to the Washington Redskins, and his place in side is under real threat.

Tim Couch went #1 to the Cleveland Browns, and was out of the league in 5 years.
Donovan McNabb went #2 to the Philadelphia Eagles, made 6 pro-bowls, and took them to within an inch of winning the Superbowl.

Peyton Manning went #1 to the Indianapolis Colts in one of the most famous QB races to the #1 pick. After a glittering career, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Ryan Leaf went #2 to the San Diego Chargers and bummed out of the league within a couple of years.

Drew Bledsoe went #1 to the New England Patriots and won a Superbowl, along with 4 pro-bowl appearances.
Rick Mirer went #2 to the Seattle Seahawks, but other than a good rookie season, fell off the scene quickly after that.

However, there is a chance that both these guys can make a home in the NFL, but we have to go a long way back to find two successful QBs from the top picks in the draft:

Jim Plunkett went #1 to the New England Patriots. Plunkett had an up and down career, but eventually found success as an Oakland Raider, winning 2 Superbowls. Not yet in Canton, he’s the only QB with 2 rings not yet in a yellow jacket.
Archie Manning went #2 to the New Orleans Saints. He had a 13 year career, mostly on losing teams (and never making a playoff appearance), but appeared in 2 pro-bowls. What he missed in the playoffs, he certainly made up for through his sons Peyton and Eli!

Be careful what you wish for…..

It’s highly likely that the first two names called out by Roger Goodell this Thursday are going to be Quarterbacks. It’s also not much surprise in which order they will be called – Jameis Winston is a lock for the Tampa Bay Buccs as the first overall pick, and whether it’s the Titans, or another ambitious suitor, Marcus Mariota is likely to be up next as Number 2.

However, if you’re a fan of the Buccs or the Titans (or the Chargers, Browns, Jets, Bears or Eagles for that matter), grabbing one of these young fellas is no slam dunk for success. There are more 1st round busts at the Quarterback position than any other. Here is a quick look back at the last 12 QBs to be picked in the 1st round:

Kicking ass:

  • Andrew Luck – 1st pick in 2012
  • Cam Newton – 1st pick in 2011
  • Teddy Bridgewater – 32nd pick in 2014

Solid starters:

  • Ryan Tannehill – 8th pick in 2012
  • Blake Bortles – 3rd pick in 2014

Amazingly still in work:

  • Brandon Weeden – 22nd pick in 2012
  • EJ Manuel – 16th pick in 2013
  • Christian Ponder – 12th pick in 2012
  • Blaine Gabbert – 10th pick in 2012

Out the league:

  • Jake Locker – 8th pick in 2011

Total mystery:

  • RG3 – 2nd pick in 2012
  • Johnny Manziel – 22nd pick in 2014

So, from this list, it’s safe to say that taking a top rated signal caller in the draft only has at best a 50% success rate. We’ll be watching the draft with excitement, but many will be watching the start of the new season with trepidation.

Draft dreams

The popularity of the NFL continues to grow here in the UK, but the college game is still largely uncovered. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota aside, most of the 1st round talent will be exciting but unknown commodities to us over here when the Draft hits Chicago next week.

Here at the 5th Down UK, we’ll be writing some posts about the history of the draft, and profiling a few new faces to keep an eye out for, but in the meantime, we reached out to some big UK fans, to see what they are hoping for for their teams:

Jake Boston (@jakeboston) – Chicago Bears

“I’ve heard the Mariota rumour, but I think we need to draft a few top defensive players – if they go offence, the wide receiver Amari Cooper is supposed to be good, and would a good replacement Marshall. I like what Fox & Pace have done so far though.”

Aaron Shergold (@aaronshergold) – Minnesota Vikings

“Personally I’d like the Vikings to continue to improve the Defence – I’ve heard the Michigan CB Trae Waynes is NFL-ready. However, I’d be also be happy if we get one of the top wide receivers – Devante Parker hooking back up with Teddy would be great. The draft is exciting for Vikings fans these days – Rick Speilman has had a great couple of years.”

Beau Boston (@beau_boston) – Detroit Lions

“Definitely think we need to go offensive lineman. Really need to protect Stafford as much as possible and help the running game. Was probably the main reason our Offence struggled last year. Failing that, I’d be happy with either of the two big running backs, Gurley or Gordon, if they fall to us”

Anthony Wootton (@anthonyrwootton) – San Francisco 49ers

“Baalke likes big guys. The 9ers need their front and center refilling due to the retirements after last season. We’re all still waiting for Justin Smith to retire too. Elsewhere they need speed outside. Torrey Smith was a good weapon for Kaepernick, but Boldin is getting old and we could use more targets.”

If you want to send us your draft dreams, send us a message to @5thDownUK and we’ll post up on the blog!!