PG Talk: Brittany Wagner

Star of Netflix’s Last Chance U Academic Counselor - East Mississippi Community College Profile: Brittany Wagner | From: Clinton, Mississippi | College: Mississippi State University Instagram: @Brittany_MSgirl | Twitter: @Brittany_MSgirl Paul Guarino: For those who are unfamiliar with EMCC and haven’t heard of Last Chance U, can you tell us a little about yourself? Brittany Wagner: I was born in Missouri but moved to Clinton, Mississippi, when I was 4 years old and lived there until I went to college. I started out at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and then transferred to Mississippi State University in the middle of my sophomore year. I received my Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from MSU in Sport Communication and Sport Administration. I played high school tennis, but my real talent and love is music. I was a singer/dancer in the nationally award-winning show choir, Attache'. I actually shared the stage with former N'SYNC member, Lance Bass. Crazy, but we are from the same small town. My family is very close - my parents still live in Mississippi and are a huge help with raising my daughter. I have one older sister who I am very close to even though she lives in Tennessee. My daughter Kennedy is by far my biggest accomplishment and the best thing that has ever happened to me. I'm still single and awaiting the arrival of that very special man! How did you become involved with EMCC? Did you have prior experience working in sports? The President of EMCC at the time saw the need to have someone in place here monitoring and supporting our student-athletes academically and created this position for me. I have worked in college athletics my entire career in several different facets, but was previously an academic counselor at Mississippi State University. I started out as a student worker in the MSU athletic department. I worked my way up to a full-time position with them eventually as a counselor. Working with student athletes from many different backgrounds and some losing hope on their dreams, how do you keep them motivated? That is the tough part and sometimes I am not very good at it. There are certainly good days and bad. I try to create small successful moments and celebrate them. I don’t think anyone wakes up wanting to be a failure, most people just need support and encouragement. I try to really celebrate the small successful moments in the classroom and those usually lead to bigger moments and continued motivation. How do you create the balance between academics and football? That is the million dollar question and I don’t think anyone has that figured out. It is tough because both require time, focus and energy. I think both sides have to be respectful of the other and both have to understand that they are equally important in these young athletes’ lives. You have to be willing to compromise, which is sometimes hard to do – without compromising the academic integrity of the institution. What would you say to the critics that say these young men don’t deserve a second chance? I don’t really understand that mentality. My question to people who say that is – what is the alternative? If you don’t give these young people a second chance, then what is their alternative? It is to send them right back into the cycle and they become bigger societal problems. So why not give them an opportunity to better themselves? I certainly believe in consequences and facing one's reality but I think you allow someone to learn and grow and be better. I don't believe in a society where you oppress people for making a mistake. What separates the EMCC culture from other JUCO’s? I think the difference is that we model our athletic programs after division one programs. We try to provide a similar atmosphere and experience to prepare our athletes for the next level. I think we also emphasize academics, where some other programs do not. We also have taken what some would see as a negative in our location and turned it in to a positive. And obviously, we win. Any time you create a winning program in the way that we have, you set yourself a part. How did the Last Chance U show come about and what was your initial thought? The show came from a GQ Article that was written by Drew Jubera about Mississippi JUCO football in 2014. An entertainment agency (Conde Nast) saw the potential for a documentary in that article and the show was born when Netflix and producer Greg Whiteley agreed. How large of a role did you expect to play in the show? Not a very large one, honestly. I was interviewed a ton for the GQ article and followed for months. I ran to the store to buy the magazine and I had been cut from the entire article. So, I think in the back of my mind during filming season one, I just kept thinking I would be cut from the show as well. I expected it to be a show about football and for no one to really care about my role or the academic side of it. The response has definitely restored my faith in humanity. The fact that the viewers responded the most to the players' stories and to my role really gives me hope and faith in society. Something I think I had lost for a minute. When did you realize that Last Chance U was a hit and everyone was watching? When Snoop Dog tweeted about it! Ha! No really, I realized it pretty quickly after it came out. My social media was exploding. I was receiving hundreds of emails a day and tons of interview requests and appearance requests. It was unreal. I honestly couldn't keep up in the beginning and there are still days where I struggle with the success of it - just because there is such a responsibility with the success that sometimes I don't feel worthy of. I give gratitude for all of it every single day though because this is the opportunity of a lifetime and hopefully will broaden my abilities to help young people everywhere. Did the EMCC community expect to receive this much national recognition? I can't really speak for the community, but I don't think anybody involved in this or even aware of it expected us to garner this much attention. Maybe Netflix knew or maybe the producers had an awareness that the rest of us didn't, but as a whole, I don't think we had a clue. How excited were you when Netflix renewed Last Chance U? I was very excited and nervous at the same time. They made the decision to renew it pretty quickly after it came out which was shocking. We started filming season two in August and the first season came out July 29. We were dealing with the craziness of season one and also trying to do our normal jobs and film season two at the same time. It was very overwhelming. I worried about that a little because I definitely was more stressed and less patient and just felt like I wasn't doing as good of a job because of all the stress I was under. But I have complete faith in our producers and I just have to trust the process and their work. Who have you seen change the most from when they got to campus to when they left? Oh there have been so many - too many to name. I have been there 8 years so you can imagine the transformations I have seen. Certainly Ronald Ollie was a fan-favorite on the show and his transformation is up there on the list. But there have been so many athletes who have transformed their lives in an amazing way and I am just honored to have been a part of it. What role do you play in the students’ lives after they leave campus? That varies. That is one reason why I always cry when they leave. I never know what will become of our relationship when they go. Some I have never seen again or talked to again. When you spend two years seeing someone every single day and becoming a mother to them and then they are gone, it is tough. Then there are others that I still talk to pretty regularly and even see occasionally. I always love hearing from them. It means the world to me when I get a text or a phone call or a visit from a student who I impacted. What’s in your future? Would you want to work as an Academic Counselor at a big division one program? What was your dream job? Good question! I wish I had a crystal ball and could see my future. I am excited about it - even though I have no clue what it looks like. I would love to move on. I have to believe that all of this has happened for a reason and will open bigger doors for me. My dream job would be to work with college athletes or NFL/NBA rookies as a behavioral specialist or life coach. I would love to move away from just the academic side and really be able to help these young people deal with their daily lives and issues. College Athletics has changed so much and the demands and pressures these days is immense. I keep seeing these athletes make mistakes and bad decisions and it makes me sad that there is not more of an emphasis on providing real support and help for these young athletes. I can't help but think that I could help some of these guys that I have seen in the media lately if given the opportunity. I also love traveling and doing speaking engagements and actually meeting the people I have inspired. That is such a rewarding experience. What should we look forward to in Last Chance U season 2? Any exclusives? I don't really know what will make it in the show but I know it will be fantastic! We have the best production team out there and they are geniuses at what they do. I think there will be some follow-up with the players from season one and then of course, there is a whole new set of players for everyone to fall in love with. The only thing I really know is that it will be coming out in the early summer and it will be longer - 8 episodes instead of 6. And I think I might be in it (wink face). Quick Hits Favorite sports team? I cheer for college football teams where my players are playing - so lots. College Basketball: Villanova Wildcats; NFL: Dallas Cowboys Favorite food? Nachos Favorite movie? The Blind Side