Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) — The varsity football coach of the Dillon Panthers. The character is based on the real-life coach Gary Gaines. Like Gaines, Taylor is the new coach who is having a difficult time adjusting to the intensity that Dillon shows for football. Taylor is often conflicted with the advice he is given by local supporters of the team. After the team advances to the state tournament at the end of Season 1 under his leadership, Taylor leaves Dillon to accept a higher level job at a college, also in Texas, only to return to Dillon early in Season 2. At the end of Season 3, a series of political moves result in Taylor losing his job and moving to the re-opened, and much more poorly-funded East Dillon High. Eric rebuilds the program at East Dillon and leads them to a State Championship before moving to Philadelphia to support Tami at the end of the series.
Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) — The wife of Eric Taylor and mother of Julie Taylor. She begins the series as the guidance counselor at Dillon High School. At the start of Season 2 she gives birth to a baby girl, Gracie Belle, and in Season 3 she becomes principal of the school, remaining there after her husband moves to East Dillon in Season 4. After the conservative community demands an apology from Tami regarding an incident that involved an abortion, Tami resigns as school principal and intends to become the guidance counselor at East Dillon. In Season 5, she is offered the position of Dean of Admissions for Braemore College in Philadelphia, which she eventually accepts in the series finale.
Julie Taylor (Aimee Teegarden) — The daughter of Eric and Tami Taylor, she begins the series as a freshman at Dillon High School and becomes the girlfriend of Matt Saracen. During Seasons 1 and 2 she is depicted engaging in some teenage rebellion (drinking, getting a tattoo, dating around, etc.). In Season 4, despite having earned an interview at Boston College, Julie ultimately turns down the offer, realizing that her heart remains in Dillon. In the season finale Julie and Matt break up and go their separate ways. However, their paths cross once again in Season 5 when Julie goes to Chicago to see Matt after making some bad decisions. During her visit, they kiss and Matt gives Julie the belief that she should stop running from what she's done wrong. She again leaves and their relationship remains ambiguous. However Matt, spurred on by her visit in Chicago, arrives in Dillon and proposes, and Julie says yes. Eight months later, they are living happily in Chicago at the conclusion of the series. Whether or not they are married by this point is unknown.
Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) — The shy and stammering sophomore who is quarterback/wide receiver of the Dillon Panthers and becomes the boyfriend of Julie Taylor. He has issues with abandonment, once summing it up as that he was left by Coach Taylor for a better team, left by Julie Taylor for a better guy, left by his father for a war. Beyond this, his mother is also known to have left him around age ten, though she returns to Dillon in Season 3 to help him take care of his grandmother. Saracen is based on Mike Winchell. Saracen graduates at the end of Season 3 but remains in the cast. In Season 4, after the death of his father, he moves to Chicago in order to pursue a career in art.
Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) - A somewhat nerdy freshman. Best friend of Panthers quarterback Matt Saracen, but wasn't on the football team in Season 1. Joined the team to impress his father in Season 2. He has his own band and is in love with Tyra Collette, whom he lost his virginity to. Landry is based on Brian Chavez. Like Chavez, Landry is best friends with the quarterback. Both characters have very good grades and await a life outside of Dillon /Odessa. In Season 4, having moved to East Dillon High, Landry makes the team as a kicker and makes the season-ending game-winning field goal against the Panthers. In Season 5, Landry goes off to college at Rice University in Houston.
Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) — The fullback/running back of the Dillon Panthers. He is the troubled best friend of Jason Street and ex-boyfriend of Tyra Collette. He later dates Lyla Garrity, with whom he has an off and on relationship. Of course, both were stops in quite a long line of girls, as Riggins is known as a bit of a womanizer. He solves many of his problems through promiscuous sex and heavy drinking. Tim is based on Don Billingsley from the film. Both Tim and Don have rocky relationships with their fathers. Both are very good players and heavy partiers. In the Season 4 finale, Tim turns himself in to protect Billy after it is discovered they were running a chop shop.
Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) — Former Dillon High bad girl, she cleans up her act after Tami takes her under wing. Her dating history includes Tim Riggins (Season 1, Season 5), Landry (Season 2), and a cowboy named Cash (Season 3). She is seen developing throughout the show and hoping to rise above the stereotype of the blonde, oversexed female in Dillon. She was admitted into University of Texas in Austin after graduating from Dillon High and expresses the desire to go into politics "like Mrs. T, only bigger" in the series finale.
Jason Street (Scott Porter) — The former star quarterback of the Dillon panthers and former fiancé of Lyla Garrity. Street was paralyzed from the chest down during the first game of his senior year and developed an interest in quad rugby. He was briefly an assistant coach of the Dillon Panthers. He ends up in Northern New Jersey with his wife Erin and their son Noah, working as a sports agent. (Recapped in Season 5)
Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly) — Daughter of Buddy Garrity, former fiancée of Jason Street and former captain of the cheerleadering team. She initially tries to maintain her relationship with Street after his accident, but ends up cheating on him with Tim Riggins, which causes a rift between Jason and the two of them. After the divorce, her mother and younger brother and sister move away while she stayed in Texas with Buddy. In Season 2, she quits cheerleading and becomes very religious after her relationship with Jason falls apart and her parents get divorced. She later dates Tim and almost follows him to San Antonio State. Lyla leaves the show at the end of Season 3 to attend Vanderbilt University. She reappears in the season 4 episode "The Son" attending the funeral of Henry Saracen, Matt's dad. In her final appearance in the following episode, she implores Tim to move on from their relationship before returning to Vanderbilt.
Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) — Former running back of the Dillon Panthers. Now plays for Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. The character is based on Boobie Miles (played by Derek Luke in the film). Smash wants to get to the pros so he can support his family, but hits several snags when he decides to use steroids in Season 1 and gets into a fight as a result of racist comments in Season 2. He is injured between the second and third season, but Coach Taylor helps him rehab and get walk on Texas A&M, where he is a successful college player. His successes are discussed and seen on TV by several people in Seasons 4 and 5.
Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria) - Cafferty is new character in Season 4. Previously a standout on West Dillon’s JV team, he has to attend East Dillon when it is discovered that he actually lives in the East Dillon district but has been lying about his address so he can continue to play for West Dillon. His parents, unlike most of the other parents, are not supportive of his involvement in football. Luke gets Becky Sproles pregnant on their first encounter in Season 4, causing her to be wary of him for some time. He eventually wins her heart during his senior year. Luke spends much of the 5th season conflicted about whether or not to go to a Division 3 college and play football once it becomes clear he will not get any offers from larger universities. Luke and his team-mates pull off a shock when they reach the State final and win. Eight months after the State final, Luke has enlisted and is seen at the bus station giving Becky his State ring before leaving Dillon.
Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan)- A new character beginning in Season 4, Howard is a talented athlete but had never played football before being given the choice of joining the new East Dillon football team or going to juvenile detention. After sending his mother to drug rehab, Vince becomes East Dillon's new quarterback and leads them to a win over the Panthers in the Season 4 finale. Vince is overwhelmed by all the attention he is receiving from colleges and becomes arrogant and selfish in Season 5. Vince's overbearing father is seen at the sidelines standing next to Jason, who is back in Dillon for a visit, repeatedly dropping somewhat unsubtle hints about "what school can get you to the pros quick", much to Jason and Coach Taylor's concern. Coach benches Vince as his behavior was beginning to alienate teammates, potentially damaging the morale of the team. Seeing the error of his ways, Vince matures and leads the Lions to State. When we meet Vince, his father is in jail and Vince is running with a bad crowd, but he stands up to his father and takes care of his mother when his father is released from jail. Eight months later, Vince is shown to be the quarterback for the Dillon Panthers.
Jess Merriweather (Jurnee Smollett)- A character that joins the series in Season 4, Merriweather is an East Dillon student whose father was a former state-championship winning quarterback of the East Dillon Lions but came to resent the sport and the team. Merriweather carries the responsibility for working in her family's restaurant and caring for her three younger brothers. By the end of Season 4, after a brief relationship with Landry, Jess becomes Vince's girlfriend. In Season 5, Jess decides to become a coach and starts shadowing Coach Taylor. Her relationship with Vince reaches a rocky patch when he starts acting selfishly. They briefly break up, but eventually fix things by the end of the season get back together before the Lions go to State. Jess later informs Coach that she is moving to Dallas because her father's fast-food franchise took off; Coach tells her he knows a coach in Dallas and will recommend her. Eight months later, she is seen shadowing that coach in Dallas, her dream still alive.
Becky Sproles (Madison Burge) - An East Dillon student/beauty-queen hopeful. Becky undergoes an abortion late in Season 4 after a one-night stand with Luke Cafferty, and leans on Tim Riggins for support. Becky's decision to terminate the pregnancy lands Tami Taylor in hot water, eventually costing her her job. In Season 5 Becky and Luke eventually get back together and she starts living with Billy and Mindy where she's treated by both as real family. Eight months after the State game she is seen kissing Luke goodbye at the bus garage as he heads off to join the army.
Hastings Ruckle (Grey Damon) - Hastings is discovered by Buddy Garrity and convinced by Luke Cafferty and Vince Howard to join the East Dillon football team instead of the basketball team. He becomes a talented receiver, helping the team win their State Championship.
Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) - Owner of a popular Chevrolet dealership in town, father of Lyla Garrity, and an influential Dillon Panthers alumnus and member of the booster club. He and his ex-wife Pam have three children: Lyla, Tabby and Buddy Jr. He played college football for the Texas Longhorns. His loud-mouthed, straight-talking pragmatism puts off Coach Taylor but they come to have a good working relationship and he genuinely has the team's best interests at heart (even if it comes out the wrong way). He ends up having an affair with Angela Collette, Tyra's mom, which causes stress with his family and results in a messy divorce. Buddy is based on John Aubrey, a character Leland himself played in the film. By the third season, Joe McCoy, a wealthy member of the booster club, stages a "coup" to replace Taylor as Panthers head coach with his own son J.D.'s personal trainer Wade Aikman, prompting Garrity, who felt ashamed of the McCoys' behavior to denounce his allegiance to the Panthers and join the Lions instead, becoming instrumental in providing sponsors, including a weekly radio show at a local station. Buddy sells his dealership and opens a bar in East Dillon in Season 4, and in Season 5 his ex-wife Pam sends his son, Buddy Jr. to live with him when he begins acting out.
Billy Riggins (Derek Phillips) — Older brother to Tim Riggins, acts as his legal guardian since both parents were absent from their lives. When he took in Tim, he was about to go to college on a golf scholarship but was forced to give it up to care for Tim. Like Tim, he played for the Dillon Panthers. Married Mindy Colette, older sister of Tim's ex-girlfriend Tyra, at the end of Season 3. In Season 4, after increasing pressure from a pregnant Mindy and himself to provide for his family, he opens a chop shop to make ends meet. When Tim takes the fall for him, he becomes a coach at East Dillon and helps take care of Becky Sproles while Tim is in jail. In Season 5, he and Mindy find out they have twins on the way. In the finale, he is shown coaching for the new Dillon Panther super-team.
Lorraine Saracen (Louanne Stephens) — Grandmother to Matt Saracen, she often requires special care from Matt. She suffers from dementia. She acts as a motherly figure in Matt's life since his father is never around.
Shelby Saracen (Kim Dickens) — Mother of Matt Saracen, she was largely absent throughout Matt's life, until his struggles with his grandmother forced him to seek her out, so that she could sign papers to legally emancipate him. She ends up staying in Dillon with Matt and his grandmother, though it takes some time for Lorraine to accept her help.
Mindy Collette-Riggins (Stacey Oristano) - Hard-edged sister to Tyra Collette and Billy Riggin's wife, Mindy works as a stripper at a local roadhouse, The Landing Strip. Unlike Tyra, she fully embraces a trashy image and reputation. Initially a minor character, as the series developed the character was more heavily featured, especially in the last two seasons where she was further fleshed out and revealed to have rather strong, underlying empathetic qualities. A sister figure to Becky, she and Billy have their own son, Stevie, and are expecting twins in Season 5.
Corrina Williams (Liz Mikel) — Mother to “Smash” Williams. She found the steroids in his room and went to Coach Taylor about it, briefly putting his career in jeopardy. Works in town as a nurse, and was the one to tell Tami Taylor she was pregnant at the end of Season 1. She supports Smash's football aspirations but also keeps him grounded, encouraging him to consider his education in addition to a potential pro career.
Mitchell and Joanne Street (Mark Nutter and Katherine Willis) — Jason Street's parents. Their occupations remain ambiguous. After Jason's injury, they were forced to mortgage the house to pay for his medical expenses and home renovations, prompting them to sue Coach Taylor for compensation. The decision to sue Coach Taylor caused some tension in the house, which upset Jason, who considered Taylor to be a mentor and was close to both parents. The Streets are portrayed as the "All-American" family in the show. They dote on Jason, presumably their only child, and were often seen cheering him on at football games. After Jason leaves Dillon for New York City in season 3, they are not mentioned again.
Mac MacGill (Blue Deckert) — Offensive coordinator for the Dillon Panthers. There is initially tension between him and Eric, as he assumed the head coaching position would be his before Eric was hired. Caused the black players on the team to walk off the team in the week leading up to a playoff game in Season 1 after making racist comments. Later defended Smash after the rival team's police tried to arrest him for starting a brawl in the game. In Season 3, he suffers a heart attack and takes a leave of absence from coaching, and is replaced by future coach Wade Aikman. In Season 4, Coach Taylor offered him a job at East Dillon, but Mac turned him down. In Season 5, MacGill has succeeded Aikman as the head coach of the Dillon Panthers. After that football season, he was either demoted back to assistant coach or left the team entirely.
Bill McGregor (Chris Mulkey) — Former head coach of the Dillon Panthers. He replaced Coach Taylor at the beginning of season 2 after the latter left for TMU. Thanks to some manipulating from Buddy Garrity, he was fired after the second game (a loss). Known as the "Tennessee Tyrant" for his heavy-handed take-no-prisoners approach to coaching, in contrast to Taylor's more casual style.
Chad Clarke (Glenn Morshower) — Father of Landry Clarke, and police sergeant for the Dillon Police Department. He tries to protect Landry when he gets into trouble in Season 2.
Herc (Kevin Rankin) — Athlete with the same injury as Jason Street, he's Jason's roommate in the rehab center after his accident. He takes Jason under his wing and gets him interested in quad rugby. They later become roommates and go in on a real estate venture together before Jason leaves for the northeast.
Jackie Miller (Brooke Langton) - Single mother to Bo Miller with a predilection for younger men. She sleeps with Tim and then Billy Riggins, causing a temporary rift between the brothers.
Waverly Grady (Aasha Davis) — The preacher's daughter and one-time girlfriend to “Smash” Williams. Her bipolar disorder eventually leads to the end of their relationship.
Ray “Voodoo” Tatum (Aldis Hodge) — A Louisiana resident who was displaced by Hurricane Katrina, hence the nickname, and Panther quarterback for two weeks after being brought to town by Buddy Garrity to replace Matt Saracen. The other players are quickly turned off by his refusal to befriend them. He tells Coach Taylor that this situation was a "marriage of convenience" as it benefited both parties and confesses that he felt out of place in Texas and yearns for his hometown in Louisiana. In the third game, against the Tigers, he refused to follow Coach Taylor's game plan, which confused his teammates and left them a touchdown behind at the half. During the halftime team meeting he is confronted by a furious Coach Taylor and his violent temper led to him being expelled from the team right then and there. The Panthers end up having to forfeit the game he led them to win after it is discovered he was not eligible to play for them. The Dillon Panthers meet him again in the State Final against his current high school West Cambria at the end of Season 1. Prior to the game, he attempts to play mind games with Smash by trying to entice him to West Cambria.
Angela Collette (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) — Mother of Tyra Collette and former mistress to Buddy Garrity. She ends up having an affair with Buddy, which ultimately destroys his family life once it is revealed that Buddy has been repeatedly unfaithful to Lyla's mother for years.
Santiago Herrera (Benny Ciaramello) — Befriends Lyla Garrity after getting out of juvy. Buddy Garrity gives him a job and a place to stay and Santiago joins the football team. Due to the writers' strike, his storyline was abandoned the following season and the character disappeared from the series entirely.
J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter) — A very talented quarterback who joins the varsity team as a freshman and eventually replaces Matt Saracen as the starter. During his freshman year, his overbearing father Joe attempts to bribe Coach Taylor into starting him. He has trouble relating to his older teammates who don't share his straight-laced habits. In the fifth season it is revealed during the East Dillon/Dillon game that he is no longer the starting QB of the Panthers, even though at this point, he would be a Junior.
Henry Saracen (Brent Smiga)- The father of Matt Saracen who was divorced from Matt's mother when Matt was young. He enlisted in the US Army and served in Iraq. He served for twenty years, missing much of Matt's life and leaving Matt to care for his grandmother. In Henry's absence, Matt often lacked a father figure and would turn to either Coach Taylor or his good friend Landry for advice, leading to a growing rift between father and son. The character is killed off by an IED in Iraq at the end of Episode 4 of Season 4, "A Sort of Homecoming;" Episode 5, "The Son" deals with Matt's reaction to his father's death. Matt's feelings of anger toward his father are revealed and the best thing he can say at his father's funeral is that he served his country well.
Buddy Garrity Jr.(Jeff Rosick and Joey Truty)- son of Buddy Garrity and brother to Lyla Garrity, Buddy starts off as just a little kid, but after moving to California starts to act out and disrespect authority causing him to move back to Texas with Buddy. He eventually joins the East Dillon Lions to get straightened out, but due to an injury is forced to sit out for the majority of the season. He ultimately becomes a part of the Dillon super-team.
Dallas Tinker (LaMarcus Tinker) - An East Dillon Lion known to his teammates by his last name, Tinker is part of a core group of players including Vince Howard, Luke Cafferty, Hastings Ruckle and Buddy Garrity, Jr. Tinker once helped Luke mend a fence on his parents' farm when no one else showed up; in Season 5, he trades "his" rally girl, Becky, to Luke in exchange for Luke's prize pig. He ultimately joins the Dillon super-team.
Regina Howard (Angela Rawna) - Vince Howard's mother, a former drug addict. After her son gets her into rehab, she is determined to turn her life around.