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Team captain defends Rockwall-Heath football coach over workouts after reported illnesses, hospitalization

Rockwall-Heath head football coach John Harrell was placed on leave amid an investigation into the student illnesses, the school said in a letter to parents.

HEATH, Texas — A junior captain of the Rockwall-Heath varsity football team is defending his head coach after the coach was placed on leave following reports of illnesses and hospitalizations among some players after a workout.

The high school told parents in a letter on Tuesday that an unknown number of parents reported that their students required medical attention and/or hospitalization after an athletics class on Friday, Jan. 6. The school said this was during the football team's offseason program.

A source told WFAA that the students fell ill after a strenuous workout that allegedly involved more than 300 push-ups over a 60-minute period and that the impacted students were diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo).

According to the school, a third party will be investigating the incident and any possible connections between the illnesses and the reported workouts. Head football coach John Harrell was also placed on administrative leave.

Harrell could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Junior Brady Luff, a captain of the team, spoke with WFAA to defend Harrell and the coaching staff as questions remain about what happened. 

"Heath football, it’s a brotherhood… these coaches have treated me with so much respect and have treated me like their son," Luff said.

Luff said he was at Friday's workout.

Luff said Friday's 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," the junior said.

He said that players weren't forced to do the workouts.

"I've heard people say that we didn't have water and that is not true," Luff said. "We have these big jugs full of water. You can go there in between reps and get water whenever you want. No one was deprived of water."

In their letter to parents, the school said some of the symptoms reported were being unable to bend, extend or lift arms, dark urine, and sharp arm pain. The symptoms listed are consistent with rhabdo, according to a list by the CDC.

Luff said he wishes the best for the players who were hospitalized and added that Harrell had been at the hospital to check on them, as well.

"[Coach Harrell] would never make us do a workout thinking it was gonna put any of us at risk," Luff said.

"I want people to know that Coach Harrell is a great man and he's treated us with nothing but respect. He loves every single one of us," he added.

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