From reality shows like “Hard Knocks” to dramas like “Survivor’s Remorse,” the stories of athletes are often portrayed as metaphors for success. On “Last Chance U,” a documentary series that follows the football players of East Mississippi Community College (EMCC), success on and off the field has taken an unexpected detour.

In many cases, players who make the team at EMCC have academic and personal issues that have gotten them kicked off the team rosters of four-year universities. Landing at EMCC is a small triumph because it means a possible way back to NCAA Division 1 teams. The school has won multiple national championships and players are more likely to get noticed and receive offers.

So “Last Chance U” is about the redemptive power of football as an affirmation of the American Dream. Where the show is less typical is that it also explores the stories of the people that help pick up the pieces when bad personal decisions or poor academic performance derail a player’s dream.

Visually, the show depicts the familiar football imagery of soaring passes, punishing tackles, inspiring speeches and screaming coaches as it follows EMCC through a season. How the players interact with the coaches and staff who are there to support them is a central part of the story. But the heart of the series is the inspiring people who make the players’ redemption possible. Their stories are as compelling as those of the young men they want to help.

No football documentary feels complete without a strong-willed leader and head coach Buddy Stephens doesn’t disappoint. His quick-fire temper often causes tension between himself and his players but also between himself and his staff. He is equal parts villain and hero. He both hates the camera in his face (sometimes physically pushing it away) and finds the footage motivation to change some of his behavior. Watching his staff navigate his anger while dealing with frustrations of their own adds a gritty edge to the action on the field.

For academic counselor Brittany Wagner, who is responsible for the players’ eligibility, a typical day involves fighting an uphill battle against the players’ lack of motivation and refusal to take personal responsibility. What makes her inspiring is that she handles it with patience and good humor, despite feeling stifled by small town Mississippi life. She is a mother figure to many players and her positive impact on their lives is clear.

Also committed to the players is defensive line coach Davern Williams, who says: “I try to be someone for them.” His positive approach is tempered with realism. He suggests that in his experience, the players who don’t respond to the care and dedication he and the other staff work so hard to give will have a hard time in life. It’s a sobering statement because watching the show, you realize he’s probably right. But like most last chances, this one is ultimately about hope.

“Last Chance U” is on Netflix.

— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing’” and the recently released “The American Television Critic.” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned@outlook.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.