If the success of Friday Night Lights taught us anything it’s that America loves a good underdog story. Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his players regularly fought against hardship in order to become better football players – and better men. But while the show focused on the drama of a small town obsessed with the game, plenty of action happened on the turf as well.
Between life-threatening injuries, brawls between teammates, Hail Mary victories, and soul-crushing defeats, the Panthers (and later, the Lions) weathered them all together under a coach who accepted nothing less than complete devotion to the game. Taylor hammered into his players a respect for time – 6 a.m. sharp means a quarter to six if you didn’t know – and effort. You didn’t have to be better than everyone else but you had to try. It’s the trying that makes the man.
These players proved that during their time sporting a Dillon jersey, overcoming incredible obstacles and defying unbelievable odds to become leaders on the field and off. Here are the five greatest underdog stories Friday Night Lights ever gave us.
As Slammin Sammy Meade would say:
“Feed the dogs, spit on the fire, lock up your daughters, sit down and shut up, because it’s game time, people!”
5. Smash Williams
Let’s get one thing out of the way; Smash Williams (Gaius Charles) is not your typical underdog. He began his career on Friday Night Lights as the cocky running back whose mouth matched his legs for speed who had a strange fascination with Tim Riggins’ (Taylor Kitsch) ex, Tara (Adrianne Palicki).
Smash was quick, he was talented, and he loved the spotlight, something that often got him in trouble, but though Smash enjoyed a gift for the game and an arsenal of athletic skills, he also faced opposition on and off the field. In season one, Smash made the mistake of using steroids in order to boost his chances of college recruitment. For all his talent, his size was often viewed as a disadvantage to the scouts interested in him.
In season two, Williams had to find a way to work with Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) after the two clashed on the field. The running back had to humble himself in order to help lead his team to another state championship. In season three, with his hopes of playing for TMU crushed after getting into a public brawl with a white teenager over racist remarks, Smash faces more set back in the form of a career ending injury.
Instead of giving up the game, he decided to work harder to recover and rebuild himself as a player, putting in dozens of morning workouts with Coach Taylor in order to rehabilitate his body and return to the field.
4. Luke Cafferty
Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria) may have had the only parents in Dillon who weren’t interested in their son pursuing a football career. The boy was set to work on his family ranch when he graduated high school, but, like everybody else, he dreamed of hauling ass out of Dillon the minute he graduated and football was his one way ticket. He worked hard to rise up from JV to varsity for the Dillon Panthers and made himself and easy target for JD McCoy’s (Jeremy Sumpter) impressive arm but when it was discovered that, because of rezoning laws, Luke was supposed to be playing for the East Dillon Lions, the young player struggled.