BYU Spring Football: Fights in Practice are a Good Thing

Nov 9, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; A Brigham Young Cougars football helmet during the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I was heartened to hear of the number of violent scuffles that erupted at each practice during the first week of spring ball. You heard me right. It warmed my heart. This is a great sign for BYU. You can disagree with my analysis that fights during a practice at Brigham Young are a positive. You’re entitled to your opinion, and you’re also entitled to be wrong.

BYU Football’s staff faces the next-to-impossible challenge of recruiting a very unique type of student-athlete. The Cougars, probably more than any other program in the country, deal with this reality on a daily basis. The Y is not a good fit for just any type of athlete or person. But, Bronco and his staff of recruiters are taking a page out of “the master” recruiter’s handbook. LaVell Edwards knew exactly how to go after footballers that would fit in and thrive at BYU.

When I was 17 years old, I sat with Coach Edwards and my parents in the living room of my childhood home. LaVell was absolutely unapologetic about BYU being different than any other university in the country. He didn’t tiptoe around the Honor Code or what would be expected from me as a young man if I were to come play for him. He talked about this code of honor and the challenge that could be mine if I would be willing to come to a place that expected more out of me than I probably expected of myself. He told my parents and I that I was going to need to be equal parts Mother Theresa and General Patton. He wanted me to be charitable, kind, and a role model to others before practice began; then an absolute beast, willing to inflict as much pain as possible on my opponent when I stepped on the field.

That resonated with me. I personally know of hundreds of other young men since that day that have felt the same way. These young men have come from all different backgrounds and environments; Mormon kids, non-Mormon kids, rich kids, poor kids, whites, blacks, Polynesians, kids from single-parent homes, suburbs, inner cities. Coach Edwards held up the Honor Code and BYU as something that every single young man could use to improve their lives. It wasn’t intended to be something in place to punish you with when you fell short. It was a tool to help people to become better students and better athletes.

BYU’s critics continue to argue that the school’s code of honor is “impossible” for a young man to be expected to live by, and that these requirements severely limit the “type” of athlete that can be recruited. I consider that mindset to be the soft bigotry of low expectations. If you don’t believe individuals from inner-cities or specific cultures can rise to the challenge of being expected to live by guidelines that push them to be better versions of themselves, then maybe you should rethink how you characterize those different than you.

If BYU ever hopes to compete at the highest levels of college football, they can’t run away from the school’s Honor Code. But instead they should hold it up as a tool to help them identify and sign up the nation’s elite. Much like the Navy SEALs do with their ethos. BYU needs to go after the elite. When William Wallace was outmanned and a serious underdog fighting for his country’s independence, like LaVell Edwards, he sought out Warrior-Poets. Half Mother Theresa. Half General Patton.

Bronco and BYU will likely always get the sweet nun part down pat. But last week, and the entire tone of spring football, has me very excited to see that they’re also getting the psycho killer part of the equation down as well.