Thu. Aug 16th, 2018

Jeff Carpenter Takes Us Into the Last Chance U Booth

Have you watched Season 3 of Last Chance U yet? If not, go ahead and plan a binge night of watching every episode on Netflix, you won’t be disappointed.

In the newly released series, cameras follow around the Independence Community College football program in southeast Kansas during the 2017 season, showcasing just what junior college is all about on the gridiron. 

If head coach Jason Brown’s eccentric behavior doesn’t draw you in, then guys like linebacker Bobby Bruce and his rough childhood in Florida certainly will. If even that doesn’t do it for you, then the compassion and care that English professor LaTonya Pinkard shows her students, will undoubtedly will. Truly, Last Chance U has outdone itself with the latest season. 

However, there is an element of sports radio that makes its way into the new season, via play-by-play voice Jeff Carpenter. A long-time resident of southeast Kansas, Carpenter plays a large role in the series and makes several on camera appearances. Throughout each game, his play-by-play calls set the scene for the highest and lowest moments of the season for the Pirates. If you’ve seen the series, you more than likely came away impressed with Carpenter’s high energy style that came across as smooth and informative. But as skilled as he may be now, his career calling football games all started by a dare from his friends. 

In the year 2003, Carpenter had no play-by-play experience, but that didn’t stop his friends from thinking he was capable at the craft. One night, while sitting around with his buddies and listening to an Independence High School football game on the radio, Carpenter’s friends made it clear they didn’t like what was coming through the speakers. In fact, they were positive their friend could do a much better job and urged him to give to a try. Carpenter chalked it up as an off night for that particular play-by-play guy, but still took his friends’ advice and made his way to the local radio station to try his luck.

After meeting with general manager Patty McCormick, he was honest about his lack of any experience in the business. Though most people would probably be turned away at that instant, McCormick instead told Carpenter to record his call of that night’s basketball game between the Kansas Jayhawks and Missouri Tigers. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Soon after, Carpenter was in the booth and calling games for the first time in his career. Though it meant doing play-by-play for local high school football games, he didn’t care. Even though it was more of something he stumbled into it, rather than something he sought out, the experience and enjoyment alone was worth every second. 

After proving his worth calling both football and basketball games for Independence High School, Carpenter was asked to be the voice of the Independence Pirates, a title he’s kept for the last 14 years. Through his years with the ICC football program, Carpenter can honestly say he’s seen both sides of the equation. During the lowest of times with the program, he was a witness to a 21-game losing streak with the Pirates. At the same time, he was also calling high school football games, where his team had a 38-game losing streak. So, not to ruin the entire season of the latest Last Chance U, but you’ll now have a better idea why Carpenter was so happy in several scenes after finally being able to call games for a winning football team. 

Though a bit of fame and recognition has now come his way after the recent season of Last Chance U, it’s never been the reason why Carpenter wanted to call games. Like most JUCO play-by-play guys, it’s just a hobby on the side that will probably never pay all the bills. Along with working at a hospital, Carpenter’s source of income comes from being a personal fitness trainer at a gym he runs in southeast Kansas. 

You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of the ICC Pirates than Carpenter. That’s evident many times throughout the series. What essentially started as a dare, Carpenter’s name and voice is now recognizable by millions after the Netflix documentary. But that new fame isn’t going to his head. No, instead, it’s all about the upcoming 2018 season and the new ventures that ICC football radio will explore. 

TM: Until I watched season 3 of Last Chance U, I didn’t realize how much ICC football meant to the town of Independence. As the play-by-play guy of the team, do you feel like you need to be a big part of the small community? 

JC: A lot of people come up to me and they’re like, well you’re the backbone of what’s Independence in this season of Last Chance U. If they feel that way, that’s great, I mean I don’t really feel I need to be so pro-biased for the Pirates or that I have to be the ‘rah rah guy.’ I don’t look at it like that.

What I do on the radio when I call play-by-play is high energy and high emotion. Anybody will see it that’s watched the show, but that’s just how I call the game. Of course you’re going to be leaning towards the team you’re representing, but at the same time, in terms of the town of Independence, I mean, born and raised here, I know a lot of the history and naturally it’s going to be something that’s held close to my heart.

TM: Other that the actual game itself, what are your other duties with the team during the week?

JC: We have a one-hour show on Thursday nights at a sports bar in downtown Independence called Turbo’s. Coach Jason Brown and some of his assistants will come in, we’ll have a one-on-one interview with each of them. We’re operating primarily off three headsets. Netflix and Last Chance U are there and filming it. Basically, the show is me re-capping what went on from the game before, bringing the fans up to speed on how the coach felt everything went and then what’s coming up for the next game on Saturday. It also gives the staff an opportunity to bring in players that were a big part of the previous game so people can find out more about them as well.

TM: Coach Brown’s antics certainly drew a lot of response from the series. Is it difficult working with someone that’s as tough as he is? 

JC: It’s really not. I’m actually pretty good friends with Coach Brown. What we have is a working relationship on the mic and that’s just an added bonus to us. It’s a real natural conversation that we have. It’s not forced, there’s nothing that’s jaded or a tough thing for either one of us to be able to hold a conversation.

What he does on the field, to some people, maybe it’s something they have a hard time understanding and accepting. Let’s face it, in the Midwest as we are, the plains states, we’re still in the Bible Belt. It’s kind of tough for people to really resonate with that sometimes.

To be real honest with you, it’s a results oriented business and that’s what all coaching is. In the Jayhawk Conference, which is arguably the toughest in the nation, it’s an extremely cutthroat business. You have to recruit the best players, you have to bring the best players in any way you can and need to. A lot of these players are coming in from really tough family backgrounds. Coach Brown’s language may be tough and gruff to some people, but the reality is that for some of these kids, that’s all they know and that’s how they respond. I think the folks that come into it open minded and not with their arms crossed and mind already made up, they’re probably going to understand it a little better. Some people you’re just not going to win over.

TM: How do you handle it if he slips up and cusses on air? It seems like that happened a couple of times in the series?

JC: (Laughs) I try to beep it with my voice but sometimes I’m not quick enough. We really only had a couple of incidents where that’s happened. Quite honestly, it happened both times on the Thursday night show at Turbo’s.  It was a minor slip up but I quickly gave him the look with my eyes along with a head nod. He kind of rolled his eyes, it was that kind of thing.

He’s just such a compassionate guy and really passionate when it comes to football, his eyes just glare with fire. I think sometimes even when he’s just talking about, he ends up going over the edge and doesn’t realize it.

I think most coaches that are real passionate and fiery guys, it’s just going to come out sometimes. He certainly doesn’t do it on purpose or to put me in a bad spot, but I think it’s a situation that presents itself in the conversation sometimes.

TM: How much do you think the exposure of Last Chance U is going to positively affect the radio broadcast this year?

JC: I think it’s going to be pretty big. Already, we’re receiving a lot of online sales in merchandise and even a huge number of people all around the globe that want to buy tickets for this year’s home games. It’s going to be big, I think all the way around, including the ICC Coaches Show at Turbo’s.

I foresee us having a greater number of people, not only coming to the games, but listening to it as well. This year, thankfully, one of our local radio stations is going to provide the coverage here in Independence. They’re going to make sure the games are streamed live with audio and video, so it’s going to be a big upgrade for us. I do think that will help the popularity and it’s certainly going to help the exposure.

As you know, we’re a nationwide recruiting conference now. These kids live all over the country and we have to have that exposure online. That’s going to be provided this year and we’re excited about that.

TM: This gig isn’t your full-time job but you’re still around the program a ton. Do you get attached to certain players like so many of us watching did with guys like Bobby Bruce during the series? 

JC: Oh yeah, I certainly do. I mean, there’s no way, as a human being, you’re going to get attached to these guys. Let’s face it, they’re young men anywhere from 18-21 years old that are a ways away from home. Some of them even for the first time and trying to find their way.

You live their life with them while they’re here in Independence. It’s a tough transition and sometimes even a culture shock. You see the trials and tribulations that these guys go through on a daily basis and you can’t help but have compassion for them. Obviously, I watched the series on Netflix and there’s certain episodes that are favorites of mine. There’s also certain guys that are favorites of mine. I definitely resonated with several of them and there’s some that we’ll be friends for the rest of our lives.

TM: You’re doing play-by-play for a 2-year school, which means a ton of new faces are coming into the program every year. How are you getting to know each guy, understanding their background story and everything else before the first game?

JC: That’s the difficult thing about anyone that does play-by-play. Especially when you’re talking about the junior college level. You have these guys, most of them for one year. They’re here roughly from 8 months to 18 months, depending on what their status is academically. It’s really difficult to try to figure out where they went to high school, what they accomplished and what they bring to the table. Pronunciations of names can even be difficult to figure out. But I think that’s one of the challenges that I really like about it. That’s what separates high school football from the junior college game.

It’s by far and large a big step up and a faster game. In my opinion, we’re in the Jayhawk Conference and that’s the SEC of junior college football. We have guys that are not only going to play D1 football, but they’re going to be playing on Sunday. It is a great challenge, but the best way to answer is that you do the best you can and every week is a learning experience. You learn more and more about each of these players.

TM: With that being said, I’m guessing you have to rely on other play-by-play guys to help out with name pronunciations, stats, info and more since it’s not as readily available at the JUCO level? 

JC: Oh yeah, no doubt. You really hope you can have a good relationship with each of them and be able to talk to them. Even though there’s going to be rivalries to where you’re really pulling for you team, you want to have a working relationship.

One of my really good friends is the play-by-play guy for Dodge City, his name is Damon Post. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s been calling games for Dodge City since I started at Independence. You do rely on the other sportscasters, I think it’s really an unspoken rule that guys help out each other. There’s always going to be those names and pronunciations that you’re going to need help with.

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