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Texas HS football coach suspended after alleged 300-push-up workout left players hospitalized

A Texas high school varsity football coach has been suspended after an offseason workout that allegedly required athletes to do nearly 400 push-ups left multiple players hospitalized.

Now, the school is “retaining an independent third party” to determine exactly what occurred.

Rockwall-Heath High School principal Todd Bradford addressed a letter to parents Tuesday explaining that the school will potentially take action beyond the independent investigation and coach John Harrell’s administrative leave.

The letter said the event occurred Friday but did not come to the school’s attention until three days later. The letter warned parents to look out for symptoms such as the inability to bend or extend arms, sharp arm pain and dark urine.

A parent, who reportedly didn’t want to be identified because of fear of retaliation, told WFAA that her son was hospitalized and diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis. The stress-induced muscle disorder can damage cells and cause kidney damage or even failure in severe cases.

That parent claimed that her son was forced to do 300 to 400 push-ups, while another told Fox 4 that it was 300 in an hour, with no break or water.

Brady Luff, a captain of the team, defended Harrell, saying the workout "wasn't any different than any workout we've done before, intensity-wise."

"Our motto, it’s the number 16. Sixteen ball games to win a championship. We do these workouts, and it’s all about discipline. If we get them right, we move on. If not, we do 16 push-ups," Luff said.

He claimed that players could have chosen to get water "between reps" or even elected not to do the workout.

Similar incidents at the collegiate level

In 2011, the University of Iowa had 13 football players hospitalized with the same disorder during offseason workouts. The university reached a settlement of $15,000 with one of those players.

In 2017, three University of Oregon players were hospitalized after a workout required some players to do push-ups, squats, sit-ups and a “plank” for up to an hour. Offensive lineman Doug Brenner was confirmed to have rhabdomyolysis, and Oregon suspended its then-new football strength and conditioning coach without pay for a month.

In 2022, Brenner sued the NCAA for $100 million, claiming the condition caused permanent damage to his kidneys and reduced his life expectancy by about 10 years. Brenner lost the lawsuit but reached a $500,000 settlement with Oregon.

Most recently, five basketball players at Concordia University Chicago were sent to the hospital after “intense” circuit training on Dec. 31. Coach Steve Kollar was reportedly “temporarily removed” after the workout.

A Texas high school football coach has been suspended after a workout left players hospitalized. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
A Texas high school football coach has been suspended after a workout left players hospitalized. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images) (Getty Images)