MONTEVALLO, Ala. (BVM) — “Last Chance U” gave the country a sneak peek into what it’s like for athletes to battle back to the DI ranks. The show also showed us how strenuous it can be for the staff helping those kids too. That was highlighted by former East Mississippi academic advisor Brittany Wagner.
For Wagner, her journey began at Mississippi State University. And like most college students, she had no clue what she wanted to do with her future. However, she did realize she wanted to have a future in athletics.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, if I’m being completely honest,” Wagner said. “I majored in sports communication as an undergraduate, but it wasn’t like I aspired to be a sports reporter. I loved sports; I knew I wanted to do something in athletics.”
A strong mentor is needed most of the time for students looking to start a career in athletics. Wagner didn’t get that.
“I actually had a terrible advisor who told me that I would never get a job because I was female,” Wagner said. “She was kind of right. It was a lot harder; there really wasn’t that open door for females in college athletics.”
With closed doors all around, Wagner’s first opportunity was not with a collegiate team but with a professional baseball team: the Charlotte Knights. Wagner didn’t stick around for long, though.
“I realized that’s not really what I wanted to do,” Wagner said. “So, I went back to Mississippi State to get my master’s degree. I was going to get my master’s degree in sports administration, really hoping that I’d get some clarity on what I would want to do.”
Back at MSU, she would ask for a graduate assistantship. There she’d find refuge as she found her influential mentor.
“There was a strong female counselor that worked with football,” Wagner said. “She was a boss. She was a single mom, the guys respected her, and she was really good at her job. She was my mentor and I knew immediately that’s exactly what I was supposed to be doing.”
Wagner would work in Starkville for five seasons before receiving a call from East Mississippi. At that point, it had been a straightforward journey for Wagner. The craziest and most important moments of her life were on the horizon.
Wagner began her academic advisor role at EMCC in 2009. It was a relatively normal job for six years until cameras from Netflix arrived. It was the beginning of what would become a national phenomenon known as “Last Chance U.”
“I really was nervous about what my family would think,” Wagner said. “I was nervous about what the school would think [too]. You do that, and it [the show] comes out, and the president of the college watches, and you’re thinking, ‘I could get fired.’ It was nice to see everyone’s support and not get fired.”
But worrying about her job and family didn’t trump her concern for the players.
“I was more worried about the players,” Wagner said. “I didn’t think I’d be a part of it, honestly. I thought I’d be in a couple of scenes, but I didn’t think I’d be “in” the show. [I thought] nobody is going to care about the academic lady.”
On the contrary, many people would care about what Wagner did and said in the show.
Due to her phone number and email being public because she works for an athletic department, the show had to hire someone to answer her phone daily during the filming of season two. She also received thousands of emails, and random people would drive down to Scooba just to see the stars of the show.
“Season two was a lot harder,” Wagner said. “I think you can see it when you watch it. You can see that I’m stressed. What people don’t understand is that season one came out in July [and] we started filming season two in August. We were all dealing with filming season two, the hugeness of season one…I think you could tell on the show that I was trying to be in the moment and manage it all, and I don’t know that I was doing a very good job, honestly.”
However, dealing with the outside factors was just as challenging as dealing with the inside facts. You had players trying to join EMCC to be on TV and build tiger fame. It became hard for the show and the school to vet those who wanted to be there for the right reasons.
“I’m so glad I was on the first two seasons,” Wagner said. “When you’re on the show in the later seasons, I don’t see how it affects your mindset. I don’t see how you can go into the show being 100% authentic when you know you’re probably going to be famous after the show.”
Wagner was still able to have great moments with players, which was shown in season one, especially when Marcel Andry is compared to Joy Behar.
Nevertheless, it looked as if Wagner’s journey was ending at EMCC. Fans felt it as they watched the show, but most importantly, Wagner and those around her sensed it too. At the end of season two, Wagner decided to leave EMCC.
“It’s probably been one the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” Wagner said. “Looking back now, I don’t know how I did it. How did I have the confidence, and how brave I was that day. It wasn’t like I had a great job offer from some SEC school and was taking to bigger and better things. I was leaving to go out on my own and bet on myself.”
Just like the players who were at EMCC, she wanted to bet on herself. And just as she had instilled confidence in the players, the players returned the favor by showing their trust in her.
“There’s that scene in season two where Jay Johnson and I where he says, ‘It’s your turn,’” Wagner said. “‘You believe in us, and it’s your turn. You’ve helped us reach our dreams. Now it’s your turn to go get yours.’ I think there were several players who were pushing me, not because they wanted me to go, but because they knew I needed to go.”
Wagner was once again at a crossroads. She had left a steady paycheck and benefits. The thought of it could be frightening, but for a person who was full of vigor, success was right around the corner in a book titled “Next Chance You.”
“I didn’t want to do a ‘tell all,’” Wagner said. “I didn’t want to throw anyone under the bus. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to write about.”
But thanks to the show’s fans, she was able to draw inspiration from them and develop a book on how to better one’s life.
“I still get emails from fans till this day saying, ‘Watching you on the show inspired me to go back to school and finish my degree,’” Wagner said. “I was getting those emails from 15-year-olds and 55-year-olds, from men and women [and] Americans and people in Germany. So I thought, why don’t I just package it all and put it in a book, and then maybe I can continue to inspire and continue to motivate and continue to help change people’s lives.”
Wagner has just been able to do just that. In fact, along with her motivational speaking, she is now teaching at the University of Montevallo.
“I teach three different classes,” Wagner said. “I love my students. They walk in, and I think they think it’s a joke. Then they’re like, ‘Oh my God, it really is you!’ I really love being back on a college campus.”
Along with being back as a teacher and an inspirational speaker, Wagner has become a boxing coach.
— Brittany Wagner (@Brittany_MSgirl) July 1, 2022
“I walked into the boxing gym, I guess three years ago,” Wagner said. “I had never hit anything in my life. I put those gloves on and went through a boxing workout, and I loved it so much.”
For Wagner, her life’s journey has taken her places she’d thought she’d never be. She is doing what she loves to do. And she’ll continue to inspire people all over the globe.
“The word is nuts right now, and I look at it and think nothing’s permanent,” Wagner said. “When we’re going through something hard, it seems monstrous; it seems permanent. The good won’t be permanent, and the bad won’t be permanent. For me, I have to tell myself…This too shall pass.”