After ‘Last Chance U,’ Ornelas gets fresh start at Iowa Central

After ‘Last Chance U,’ Ornelas gets fresh start at Iowa Central

By: Dana Becker, The Messenger Sports Reporter


 For current Iowa Central assistant football coach Jesse Ornelas, his time at Independence Community College was one he'll never forget.

Ornelas was the recruiting coordinator and running backs coach for the Pirates, who were featured on the Netflix series "Last Chance U" last season. Independence went 9-2 overall, won the Jayhawk Conference title and claimed a victory in the Midwest Bowl Classic.

After two seasons working with Independence head coach Jason Brown, Ornelas was hired by new Iowa Central coach Jesse Montalto as a recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach.

The popular docu-series filmed for two years at East Mississippi — a national contender in the junior college ranks — before landing in Kansas.

"I had a great time at Independence, and since it's documented, I can always look back on the memories we made," Ornelas said. "It was a great experience, but I absolutely love it (at Iowa Central). It's been a breath of fresh air for me, a new challenge and one I'm ready to help turnaround.

"We have some of the best facilities and resources for the guys. It's not hard to bring in high-caliber recruits, because we have so much to give them in return."

It didn't take long for Ornelas to make an impact with the Tritons, as he helped bring in several FBS-level players — including projected starting quarterback Blake Dever, wide receivers Kevaughn Dingle and Ezra Naylor, and several others.

"I always tell everybody that I am not going to get hired for being the best position coach,"Ornelas said. "I'll get hired for being the better recruiter, because I bring in dudes; that's my thing.

"I've always worked with kids, understood kids and been able to relate to them. Through the recruiting process, we build relationships with them. That's why they decide to come play for us at Iowa Central."

A major storyline on the Netflix series was the use of several different running backs who were recruited by Ornelas. Included in the bunch was Rakeem Boyd, a former Texas A&M recruit that is now vying for a starting job at Arkansas; former Michigan signee Kingston Davis, who is at UAB; and Jamal Scott.

The Tritons signed a pair of prep standouts to help revamp the backfield in Jatoviay Hill and Draven Peeples.

"In terms of straight talent-for-talent, Iowa Central is very comparable to Independence,"Ornelas said. "We haven't seen these guys when it hits the fan and their hair's on fire. That's when we'll learn a lot about them. But seeing them every day in practice, athletically, they are comparable."

Along with the running back battles, the demeanor of Brown was brought to the forefront in several episodes of the season. The series has already elected to return to Independence for the coming season, with the Pirates hosting the Tritons on Oct. 27.

While Ornelas preferred to stay away from the cameras for the most part, he does admit that "what you saw was real and what we experienced."

"I tell everybody they only showed two percent of what they filmed, meaning there is 98 percent you didn't see," he laughed. "Netflix did a very good job of portraying a very accurate experience that we went through, though.

"With Coach Brown, that is him. I worked for him for two years, and he was the same before the cameras got there — and he'll be the same after they leave."

As for his new boss, Ornelas says Brown and Montalto are "apples to oranges."

"They both get business done, they just do it different ways," he said. "We are a little more reliant on them figuring it out on their own (at Iowa Central) because they want to get out. At Independence, they don't have a choice: it's one way or the highway.

"Both ways work, and I'm glad I can take those experiences at Independence and use them here."