It appears coach Matt Labrum got through to his team.
On Saturday, Labrum — head coach of Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah — suspended all 80 of his players for what he described as "the lack of character we are showing off the field."
The move has received widespread media attention, and it seems to have gotten Labrum's players in gear. According to reports, all but nine of the team's 41 seniors have been reinstated and will play Friday night. (The remaining suspended players still have the opportunity to earn their places back on Union High's roster.)
"We have enough that we’ll be playing all the games this week," Labrum told KSL.com. "It was mixed. It’s hard. You have mixed emotions because some guys are so elated they have their jerseys back, but maybe the guy next to him wasn’t getting his. It was very mixed. But I think the guys handled it well."
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, players routinely skipped classes and were involved in cyber-bullying against fellow students.
During Saturday's early morning team meeting, Labrum gave each of his players a letter outlining what would need to be done to earn back a spot on the team. Labrum's letter blamed the team's poor behavior and academic performance as reasons for the suspensions — not the team's on-field performance.
“The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field," Labrum wrote. "It is a privilege to play this wonderful game! We must earn the opportunity to have the honor to put on our high school jerseys each Thursday and Friday night!”
“We felt like everything was going in a direction that we didn’t want our young men going,” Labrum told the newspaper. “We felt like we needed to make a stand.”
The suspended players were required to perform community service, attend study hall and take a class on character development. In addition, Labrum required that the students write a report detailing the extent of their negative actions. Players were also required to attend all of their classes — and those who were struggling academically also were required to show some level of improvement.
Labrum's coaching decision brought a significant amount of media attention — something the small-town coach wasn't anticipating. However, he believes his actions as both a coach and a mentor have the potential to change the behavior of students nationwide.
“We have an opportunity to be an inspiration to an entire nation by doing the right things, by following through," he said. "We need to continue to do the right things.”