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PROVO — The ramifications of breaking BYU's stringent Honor Code are particularly harsh for athletes, often resulting in game suspensions and sometimes going so far as dismissal from the university.
Almost always, the affected players are subject to public ridicule when their names are splattered all over the numerous traditional and social media forums. But in every case, except for the extreme, BYU does not cast them out completely.
The university, coupled with the particular coach, offers a shot at redemption for those who get booted off a team. Included in the dismissal are the requirements that allow players a path to return to the school in good standing. And despite all the hassle and embarrassment, they usually come back.
"So much is made of when players leave BYU," said BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall. "Not much is made when they come back."
Point well taken. Negative sells.
But redemption stories are worth taking the time to tell. Zac Stout is the latest example: "It was one of the hardest things of my life," the senior linebacker of the ordeal that lasted almost two years.
The outcome was well worth it.
Starting at inside linebacker, Stout is a making a significant contribution for the 21st-ranked Cougars. In last week's Thursday night showcase game on ESPN, Stout blasted through the Houston offensive line to record a safety after tackling the ball carrier in the end zone.
In a way, the singular play stands as a metaphor for a young man who stayed the course with a relentless pursuit to make the right play.
So much is made of when players leave BYU. Not much is made when they come back.
"I kind of always had it in the back of my mind, knowing that if I could just get myself right in all aspects of my life the physical aspects would come right back," Stout said.
To say the least, Stout has had one of the more interesting football careers at BYU. It actually goes back before he ever officially arrived from California.
Stout was part of the now infamous Jake Heaps press conference held at a downtown Salt Lake City restaurant in June 2009. He sat along a table with receiver Ross Apo as Heaps, a soon-to-be high school senior, began by thanking his public relations director.
Considered at the time as the nation's top high school quarterback, Heaps eventually flopped at BYU and Kansas and now is a backup at Miami. Apo also had considerable hype, having committed to Texas before deciding on BYU.
By most accounts, Stout was almost an afterthought at the press conference. Now he's the best of the three.
Talk about the least being first among them.
But until this season, Stout's time in college also had fallen far short of expectations. While injuries were a factor, particularly as a freshman, his own behavior did him in.
Stout's participation in a fight at a local fast-food restaurant nearly two years ago led to his dismissal from the team. He withdrew from school and missed last season.
"I was speechless, I guess you could say," Stout recalled of his situation. "I didn't know what to say. I was just so down."
Initially, he thought of skipping out on BYU and going to another university, but further contemplation led to keeping his original commitment.
With the help of his family and relationship with the football program, Stout persevered through a difficult and lonely time.
"Motivating myself some days was hard, but I just didn't like where I was at," he said. "I just wanted to be back (at BYU) so bad."
To the surprise of some, although it was a struggle physically, Stout rounded into form during spring practice. In time, he was rewarded by getting back on scholarship.
Looking back, he's grateful BYU extended a lifeline.
"They believe in second chances," he said. "Even if you make mistakes there will be consequences, but as a long as you take the proper ways to get back they'll let you back."
Mendenhall never doubted Stout's eventual return, even if he didn't immediately get his scholarship back. The coach takes pride in pointing out all of Stout's accomplishments, which include being on target to graduate.
"It's a great reminder for us all — fans, media, coaches, anyone — to not write anyone off, to be pulling for them as they battle as they struggle and as they work their way back into reaching their goals and aspirations," Mendenhall said.
Again, point well taken.