As anybody who has watched Friday Night Lights (whose fourth season is being aired on NBC) knows, Buddy Garrity loves Dillon high school football more than life itsownself. As played to the hilt by Brad Leland, Buddy is the quintessential small-town booster: a voluble car dealer and flawed family man who will do what it takes to achieve braggin' rights for his team, be it his once beloved Dillon Panthers or his new object of pigskin lust, the East Dillon Lions of coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler). "You can't fake boosterism, Eric," Buddy tells the coach. "It comes from the heart."
For the 55-year-old Leland, firsthand research began in the early 1970s, when he was a 180-pound defensive back and defensive end on state championship teams at Plano (Texas) High. "I didn't really know any Buddy Garritys," he says, "but I knew they were out there." Leland's gridiron career ended when he tore up his knee during a drill. The Texas Tech grad has fashioned a career out of character roles; with Buddy, he winningly has lost the stereotype but not the 10-gallon bluster. Says executive producer Jason Katims, "Buddy started out as a charming ballbuster, but Brad's just so good—larger than life, funny, vulnerable and completely lovable—that he inspired the writers to take him everywhere we possibly could."
The series' critical success has brought Leland recognition—from boosters. "They say, 'Hey, you need to be very careful not to give us a bad name,'" he says with a laugh. "And the boosters in Lubbock are callin' me to tell me that [new Texas Tech] coach [Tommy] Tuberville is gonna bring some serious defense." Yet with the series shooting in Austin, Leland has grown to appreciate Mack Brown's Texas teams. "People here always wonder how I can root for my alma mater and also like the Longhorns," Leland says. "I just love great teams." Buddy would see no conflict.