IOWA CITY — Netflix’s “Last Chance U” shows a side of college football foreign to the one we know here.
It’s a series about junior college football, and it’s not pretty. The structure, the facilities, the academics, the attention it gets — they’re all vastly different to the major-college spheres of Iowa and Iowa State. That’s said realizing it’s a dramatized show focused on personalities, not a comprehensive look at juco ball.
Season 3, released this summer, is about the 2017 season of Independence (Kan.) Community College’s team. In the first episode, current Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent and Iowa Western Community College of Council Bluffs blistered Independence in their ‘17 season-opener.
Sargent is mentioned twice in two showcase plays, one a touchdown run. Then a redshirt freshman, he rushed for 170 yards and a TD in that game, and also had a 24-yard scoring reception. His team totaled 732 yards and romped, 70-21. Mind you, Independence was good enough to win nine of its remaining 10 games.
Over the 10 games in which he played, Sargent rushed for 1,449 yards and 14 touchdowns for the 11-1 Reivers. Saturday, he had a 2-yard TD run for Iowa in the Hawkeyes’ 13-3 win over Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium.
“I’ve still got chills,” Sargent said after the game. “My hairs are standing up right now.”
Sargent joined Iowa’s program just three months ago. There’s a little coincidental stuff going on this week with the Hawkeyes playing Northern Iowa, because Iowa’s staff got its first look at Sargent in the UNI-Dome last December when Iowa Western beat Northwest Mississippi in the Graphic Edge Bowl.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Also, UNI was among the programs recruiting Sargent before bigger schools like Iowa and Louisville joined in pursuit.
Sargent was part of a three-man rushing attack in Iowa’s 33-7 season-opening win against Northern Illinois. He was the second running back used, and carried 12 times for 40 yards. With starter Ivory Kelly-Martin missing the Iowa State game with an ankle injury, Iowa started Toren Young and relied heavily on Sargent.
In a game in which rushing yards were hard to come by, Sargent carried 11 times for 25 yards. There were a lot of nowhere-to-run 1-yard gains. But he was the only player in the game to score a touchdown, a 2-yard run with 4:47 left in the game.
“My first touchdown,” soft-spoken Sargent said. “An unbelievable feeling.”
Scott Strohmeier built Iowa Western’s football program from scratch a decade ago. He has done a lot of winning, including a national championship, and has sent many players to major-college programs.
One was Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley, who had a team-high 51 catches last season. Iowa hasn’t taken many jucos over Kirk Ferentz’s 20 years as coach. Ferentz has to be really sold before adding one.
“I think Mekhi is a perfect fit for Iowa,” Strohmeier told me two weeks ago. “He has a toughness and skill set that matches their system.”
“Coach Strohmeier does a really good job over there,” Sargent said, emphasizing the word “really.”
“I was thankful to be coached by him, thankful to get the opportunity.”
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!
You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.
Sargent is from Key West, Fla. Like junior college football, Key West feels a world away from Iowa City. But the player agrees with his former coach about him adapting well with the Hawkeyes.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “Just the style of offense, the tough-nosed, championship-level. Everything we do is at a championship level.”
It feels more that way when you’ve just played before 69,250 fans. He said crowds at Iowa Western games were “a couple hundred, if that. I’ve never been in front of a fan base like this.”
Back to that August 2017 night in Kansas. After two years of doing “Last Chance U” at East Mississippi Community College, the program moved to Independence. Independence and Netflix let the world know. Iowa Western knew.
“We told one another at practice every day that we didn’t want to lose on TV,” Sargent said. “The guys were pretty amped about that.”
Now all his games are televised.
“It’s surreal,” Sargent said. “It’s just crazy.”
l Comments: (319) 368-8840; firstname.lastname@example.org