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Football Coach And Player Discuss Their Journey In Netflix's 'Last Chance U'

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Until Netflix's "Last Chance U," there was a football world few of us knew about - the hard-hitting passionate play of junior college football.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST CHANCE U")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Falcons reset. Walker has the team off and running - runs rights into a Falcon defender and brought down towards the (unintelligible).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For five seasons, "Last Chance U" has been telling the stories of young men, often from hard backgrounds, desperately trying to build a highlight reel that will win them a scholarship to a Division I college.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST CHANCE U")

JOHN BEAM: A lot of these kids are castoffs. You go to a school that has no money. You know, you look, and you don't even have a - sometimes a place to stay. Teachers probably told you, oh, you're never going to be anything. Our job is to believe in them so they can believe in themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's John Beam, athletic director and head football coach at Laney College, a community college in Oakland, Calif., and the focus of this season's "Last Chance U." He joins us now.

Welcome to the program.

BEAM: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we are also joined by Dior Walker-Scott. He was a wide receiver and fill-in quarterback for Laney last season.

Welcome to you.

DIOR WALKER-SCOTT: Hi. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm going to start with you, Coach Beam. Your 41st season of coaching has now been postponed by the pandemic. And as we see in the series, there's a lot going on in your athletes' lives, you know? You touch on homelessness, financial need, abuse. How do you address those issues at the same time you're trying to defend your state and national championships?

BEAM: Well, I think you can never lose sight of who you are, you know, as a human being, as a coach, as a member of a community. And so the things that I've been fighting that you see on "Last Chance U" and Laney, I've been doing that, you know, for my entire career in Oakland - right? - helping out. A lot of young people today need a helping hand. And that's - you know, they don't want handouts. They just want a hand. And someone's got to believe in them. And that's our job - right? - to let them know that they can be anything they want to be with hard work and sometimes, you know, with a helping hand to boost them to where they need to go or want to go.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dior, when we meet you, you're living in your car. You're estranged from your dad. That's a tough way to go to school and to play ball.

WALKER-SCOTT: Yes, it is. It is. I didn't realize it was that much of a hardship. I just really wanted to play football and be in a better situation than what I was before. So that was my drive, my motivation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But you start having these stress-induced breathing problems, right? I mean, there was a lot of pressure.

WALKER-SCOTT: Right. Coach Beam's wife Ms. Cindi - she helped me tremendously working on breathing exercises. I think without her, I still would've been struggling just controlling my anxiety. And I just want a - big shoutout to her because she has really helped me a lot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Coach Beam, I'm wondering what you hope for the young men that you coach because I recently looked up, you know, sort of where they are now some - over the last five seasons, where some of the players that were in the show ended up. And there's a whole gamut. Some did really well, some not so well. What do you hope for them?

BEAM: My goal for young people is that they continue progressing so they're in a better situation than they are now, right? So right now, Dior is living in a house. He has his own bed. He's going to continue his education at the University of Hawaii. So that's a positive, right? But for some people, it might be working - you know, becoming a firefighter. So many of our students come to Laney. They want to become firefighters or even law enforcement, so we have programs for that as well. And so it's just, you know, progressing so that you can continue to be a valuable member, in essence, to society - right? - and give something back.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you get from playing football, Dior?

WALKER-SCOTT: I get the sense of how to handle adversity, get the sense of how to build team character and just how to be a better leader and a better man. And I think that's what Coach Beam has instilled in me - even with all my adversities, never give up. Never have any excuses because life goes on. You know, play - you got to play the next play.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You did make it to a DI school. You're at the University of Hawaii. What's that like? I mean, not right now during the pandemic, but what was that like when you, you know, got word that you'd actually made it?

WALKER-SCOTT: It was a unbelievable feeling. I was with my mom at the time. And it was truly a blessing for both of us 'cause my mama can send me off to college. I can go to college. And it's in Hawaii. So now she has a reason to come see me now for vacation. So it's...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

WALKER-SCOTT: It was just amazing that somebody finally gave me a shot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can I ask you, Coach Beam, what keeps you at Laney and in Oakland? I would imagine, over the years, there's been bigger offers for a coach as successful as yourself.

BEAM: You know, what's a bigger offer? You know what I mean? You're happy. You get to be a fabric of the community. You know, you make a difference in people's lives. I make a contribution to a fabulous city. I get to run into people like Dior and hear his story and try to be a part of his story, right? At a four-year school, maybe I'm not a part of that. You know, we're worried about winning and losing so we keep our jobs. My job is to teach. My job is to nurture. And so it's not about winning and losing. My wins are going to be off the field that are going to be huge.

The wins on the field have been good, too. Don't get me wrong. There's been a lot of those. But it's also that when you get - you know, you see Dior tell you that he cried because it's the first time he's been in a bed in two years, and you go, wow. You know, something simple as that - it brings that much happiness to someone, and we don't realize it. We take it for granted. And so those keep you going, right? You want the next - help the next person get his own bed, in essence.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dior, what do you hope now? When you think about your future, what do you see?

WALKER-SCOTT: Make my future family proud, really make my mom proud. Me and her, we've been through a lot. And if I can just send my mom off to a vacation, I think that would make me the happiest man alive. Yeah, I can dream about the NFL. I can have a high-paying job. But as long as my mom's comfortable, I feel like I've done my part in life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Dior Walker-Scott and Coach John Beam. They are featured in "Last Chance U," created and directed by Greg Whiteley and streaming now on Netflix.

Thanks to you both for speaking with me.

BEAM: Thank you very much.

WALKER-SCOTT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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