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'Friday Night Lights' Actors Zach Gilford, Matt Lauria Talk About Moving On

Off The Map

Zach Gilford and Matt Lauria may not be household names to those not obsessed with DirecTV/NBC's football-set family drama Friday Night Lights. But to those familiar with the phrases "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose" and "Real men fender bench," they're stars at the top of their game.

Gilford -- whose shy and wholesome character, Matt Saracen, departed the show during Season 4 -- is returning to TV this month via ABC's jungle medicine drama Off the Map, while Lauria is stepping out of playing Texas countryboy tailback Luke Cafferty and heading to Fox's Shawn Ryan cop drama The Chicago Code next month.

"Friday Night Lights really showcases actors well," Lauria told The Hollywood Reporter during Fox's Television Critics Assn. winter press tour. "It's really been a good launching pad for so many people."

As for their individual roles, Gilford opted for a character that was the polar opposite of QB-1 Saracen with Map's Tommy Fuller, a cocky and goofy doctor with a bit of an ego.

"[The role] was totally different than what I was doing," Gilford said of the show, written and created by Jenna Bans and executive produced by Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy, Private Pratice). "I get to grow up. I'm not shy; I don't have a stutter. It's just fun to really get to do something that's totally different."

Also different for Gilford was adjusting to Map's tighter script and Hawaii location compared to FNL's noted improv style and Texas hub.

"I was really scared because going from Friday Night Lights was going to be complete culture shock," he said, noting that Map's writers trust the drama's directors and cast, which includes Caroline Dhavernas (Wonderfalls) and Mamie Gummer (The Good Wife). "They give me a lot of freedom to really figure out who this guy is and play with it and make it a little more mine."

For Lauria, however, his new role as Code's Caleb Evers, a young detective quickly working his way up the ranks of the Chicago police department, wasn't that different from the loyal Luke.

"What I love about both characters is that Luke is incredibly sincere, staunch, loyal. And so is Caleb," Lauria said, noting that the characters share humble beginnings. "What I've always loved about Luke is he's so committed to doing the right thing. I think Caleb is a little more on top of it but in a different way: He's a little more fastidious and prepared."

As for leaving FNL, Lauria said he still keeps in touch with cast members and that their shared bond "won't fade."

Fox's The Chicago Code premieres Feb. 7; ABC's Off the Map bowed Jan. 12. DirecTV airs the series finale of Friday Night Lights on Feb. 9; Season 5 airs on NBC in the spring.