Every university and athletic program has their own “code”. BYU is a little unique because they write theirs down, publish it, highlight it, and put it in front of every student for their signature of acceptance. But, regardless of where a student-athlete decides to enroll, certain expectations and standards will be placed on them. These standards and expectations are often part of the inherent code established by the institution’s culture, coaching staff, and the team’s supporters. As we’ve witnessed with BYU Football this last week, even the most hard-and-fast “codes” are evolving and changing.
Dennis Erickson (current Utah Utes Co-Offensive Coordinator and Running Backs coach) called me when I was 17 years old and invited me on a recruiting trip to the University of Miami. The U had won four National Championships in the previous nine years. They were the premier college football program of the 80’s.
I remember sitting in Coach Erickson’s office a few weeks after his phone call, and listening to how The U. had gone 77-7 over the previous 7 years. He also went on to talk about how the Canes had sent more players to the NFL over the previous decade than any other program in America. And it wasn’t even close.
But the ‘Canes had their own “code”, and to be honest, I was worried how much that “code” appealed to me.
I had two hosts that recruiting weekend in Coral Gables. I met quarterback Gino Torretta (Heisman winner in 1992) at his penthouse suite overlooking the bay. He showed me his new 1991 National Championship ring. Needless to say, it made the 1984 title rings look like my Jr. High class ring. Gino explained that Host #2 was going to be arriving shortly to pick us up and we’d head off to gather up the other recruits. I was excited because he said Host #2 was bringing a limousine and I had never been in one. What he didn’t mention, however, was that the limo came equipped with a hot-tub fully stocked with hostesses. The mini-bar in the limo was stocked, and to top it off, Host #2 was none other than Luther “Luke Skywalker” Campbell of Miami’s own 2 Live Crew. No matter how I try, I will never forget those two days.
My recruiting trip to BYU the following weekend was on the other end of the excitement/fun scale. I remember thinking, “Seriously? Snowmobiling? A volleyball game?” As a young high school kid, I shook my head and wondered how BYU was ever going to be able to compete with the biggest programs in the country, whose “codes” were based on very different principles. I was immature, but was convinced that BYU was resigning themselves to mediocrity because of their standards and beliefs. After openly discussing with Lavell Edwards the drastic differences between my trip to Miami, and visit to Provo, Lavell simply smiled and sat back in his chair.
A couple of days after my visit with Coach Edwards I got a package in the mail. It was a VHS tape with a sticky note on it. It read, “Watch this. You’ll know where you need to be”. He had sent me a copy of BYU’s beat-down of the Miami Hurricanes from the 1990 season, one year prior.
I guess I was blessed with a little wisdom beyond my years. Miami’s “code” was so attractive to me that I knew it would ruin my life. Some young men may be fine or even thrive in an environment like that. In fact, many do. But I would have failed. I have no doubt that I would have screwed up my life and probably ended up in prison. I needed to go to a school with a code that was very explicit in what was to be expected of me. I needed a code that held me accountable, and made me uncomfortable. It was nothing against any other school and their respective standards, but I needed what was best for me. For some reason I was blessed with the foresight to see that I was probably still going to be a screw-up, but if I chose BYU and their code of honor, I was going to grow and become a better man; and have a semi-respectable, happy life.
Jamaal Williams’ recent hiccup with the law and BYU really hit home with me. When I was at BYU, I made some mistakes that forced BYU to ask me to leave the school, the football team, and ultimately get my life together.
Through the painful process, LaVell characterized the media’s portrayal of the situation as “blatant character assassination”. He also disagreed with the Honor Code Office’s handling of the situation. Mostly, throughout the entire ordeal he stood by me as if I were his own son that had made some mistakes in life. He supported me and refused to let me give up. He helped me get back in school and back on the team.
Sometimes folks that grew up around BYU or in the Mormon culture discount the value this unique “code” has to many who may be outside looking in. In my 20-year history with BYU, I’ve never met bigger proponents of the Honor Code than the mothers of amazing athletes that, at first glance, may not appear to be traditional BYU recruits. I’m talking specifically about women like Ronney Jenkins’ (1996-1998) grandmother, Brian Logan’s (2009-2010) mother, and Jamaal Williams’ (2012-present) mother. These African-American, non-LDS moms no doubt have influenced their son’s decision to go to the Y because of, not in spite of the Honor Code. The families of promising athletes raised in different, maybe difficult environments, appreciate the challenge and support the “code” will give their son as he strives to become a great athlete and a good man.
BYU, the Honor Code Office, the LDS Church, and the Athletic Department took a huge step forward this last week by allowing the “code” to be a tool to make young people better and raise them up; instead of using the code as a tool for the media, or the general public to beat young people down. Thank you BYU.