Sean Porter works at Kilpatrick Detention Center in Los Angeles. Frustrated at not being able to help the kids get away from their problems in life, such as street gangs and drug dealings, he decides to create a football team so the kids can feel like they're part of something. Porter believes that football will teach the teenage inmates what it takes to be responsible, mature, and winners. He picks out a few kids in the room that he feels will benefit from this program and requires that they practice with him the following day. He states to his new team, the Kilpatrick Mustangs, "You are all losers, But if you stick with the program you could all be winners at the end." Two of the teens do not get along because they are from rival gangs. Willie Weathers is from the 88’s and Kelvin Owens is from the 95’s. The first game is against the best team in the league, Barrington. The game starts out somewhat positive for the Mustangs, as they recover a fumble on the first drive, but things quickly turn. They are demolished by Barrington, losing by 38 points. After starting 0-2, the Mustangs start winning games as they learn to work together. Kelvin and Willie finally shake hands when they win a game by one touchdown after Kelvin makes a big block for Willie. Near the end of the season, the Mustangs are headed for the playoffs. They are getting more publicity and more fans along the way.
One of Willie’s 88 gang mates Free stops by the field. He realizes that Kelvin is a 95. Free and Kelvin get into a fight, and Free shoots Kelvin in the shoulder. As Free prepares to put another bullet in Kelvin's head, Willie runs toward Free and tackles him to the ground to save Kelvin. Free is shocked that Willie helped Kelvin and not him. The police show up, and Free runs off. He fires at the responding officers who fire in return, killing him. Although Kelvin survives the attack, he will not be able to play in the finals. In the next game, against Barrington, the Mustangs go into the half down 14-0. Willie gives a motivational speech, and they go out and beat Barrington on the last play of the game. It is revealed in the narration that they lost the championship game, but no one called them losers. A few months later, Sean's football method is officially made part of the program.
Nearly all the former members of the Mustangs are doing well in their new lives outside the detention center. Willie Weathers is playing football for a top boarding school, Kelvin Owens is playing football for Washington High, Kenny Bates is going to school in Redondo Beach and is living with his mother, Junior Palaita got a job working for furniture company. Five are back in jail, and Bug Wendal was killed in a drive-by shooting in Compton, California.