We haven’t been playing the way we should. We need to get on track on what we need to do every week and every day in order to play the football I know we’re capable of —Fred Warner
BYU (1-3) at Utah State (2-2)
Friday, 6 p.m. MDT Maverick Stadium TV: CBSSN
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
PROVO — In the locker room following BYU’s crushing 40-6 loss to Wisconsin on Sept. 16, frustration gripped senior linebacker Fred Warner.
“I had this awful taste in my mouth after that game,” the team captain recalled.
With a bye coming up, Warner knew something needed to be done. So he contacted director of football operations Russell Tialavea and asked him to help him organize a players-only meeting.
That meeting took place last Monday night, two days after the setback to the Badgers, at LaVell Edwards Stadium — an impromptu, football-centric Family Home Evening of sorts — where players took turns standing up and discussing what has led to a dismal 1-3 start to the season and how they could go about turning things around.
“We haven’t been playing the way we should. We need to get on track on what we need to do every week and every day in order to play the football I know we’re capable of,” Warner said. “We really needed that because I wasn’t going to continue to go every week without saying anything and having a season where we just don’t live up to expectations like I want us to.”
Warner didn’t hold back while addressing his teammates.
“I wanted it to be an open thing. I wanted anyone to say what they wanted. In the moment, I showed my emotion. I love this game so much, I love this team so much,” he said. “They knew the intensity I was bringing and the sense of urgency that I expect out of all of us. Other guys expect the same thing. You’ll see a different team this week.”
The Cougars are hoping that “different team” will garner a different result when they visit Utah State Friday (6 p.m., MDT, CBSSN). BYU, which has suffered three consecutive losses, hasn’t won a game since beating FCS opponent Portland State one month ago.
Coach Kalani Sitake was glad to see his players take ownership of the program in that way.
“That’s a good sign. That’s what we’re trying to promote with our players, to lead this team. This is their team,” he said. “I want them to feel like they have a say in what we do as a program. It made me happy that they were able to take this on and have a player-only type of meeting. It allowed players to speak up and teach and hold each other accountable as well.”
Senior punter Jonny Linehan said players talked openly about their frustrations and their desire to make changes.
“We talked about how we’re not happy, obviously, with how we’ve played. A lot of different people got up and shared about why they play and what we still have to play for,” he said. “We still have a lot of games left on the season. We’re not going to roll over and die. Sure, we’ve had some bad losses and we haven’t played as well as we should have or could have. But ... we’re BYU. We’re going to stand up and fight. We have another game this week so we’re focused on that, not focused on what could have been.”
Linehan said the players-only meeting “was probably the coolest thing about” the bye week.
“The players were like, ‘We need to watch more film, we need to do more reps, we need to work harder, play less video games,’” he said. “We only have a limited time to do this in our life. We feel like we haven’t been putting in enough time. This week we’ve refocused and rededicated and we’re going to put in more time and hopefully we’ll see those results.”
Linehan added that the team was already working hard but that it needed to do more.
“We feel that because we haven’t been getting the results we wanted, there’s more than we can do,” he said. “It’s just disciplining ourselves to put in the extra hours."
“We just needed to bring up the fact that we need to hold each other more accountable every day during the week,” Warner said. “Bringing more competition to practice, having more self-discipline, making sure we’re in the film room and not in the players’ lounge, fooling around. That’s the main thing.”
Wide receiver Micah Simon said the impact of that meeting was reflected in Monday’s practice.
“A lot of guys stepped up, guys I never really heard be vocal before — freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors — it didn’t really matter,” he said. “Guys got up there, just expressing — we were all frustrated. We knew things need to change. Today was great. We have a short week. It was great to see the type of focus we had today.”