Johnny Dodd
October 21, 2013 12:00 PM

MATT LABRUM, 41

Roosevelt, Utah

The Union High Cougars had just lost to a rival football team 40-16. Already feeling low, the players were shocked when, in the postgame locker room on Sept. 20, their beloved coach Matt Labrum said, “Turn in your jerseys. I’m suspending the whole team.” Labrum had grown concerned about players letting their grades slip, skipping classes and possibly being involved in the cyberbullying of another student. “This wasn’t about winning or losing,” he says. “This was about character.” Because the bullying took place anonymously online, no player was named in the incident. But Labrum was upset that “our guys weren’t stopping it.” So no football for all 49 of them.

Echoing many players, junior Nic Smith says, “Football is what I love, so I was mad.” But Labrum, hailed around the country once a local paper picked up his story, offered the team an old-school way to earn back their team spots. Besides doing plenty of soul searching, they scrubbed school hallways, picked up trash, visited elderly residents in two care facilities and memorized a passage on the importance of character. “I’ll never forget this,” says Smith, who, along with all but nine players, got his jersey back Sept. 25, two days before the homecoming game. “It really changed my attitude and made me want to be a better person.”

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