MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If talent and coaching are the top factors in creating a winning football team, leadership cannot be far behind.
WVU started 5-0 last season only to fall apart despite a wealth of talent on offense.
Coach Dana Holgorsen said during preseason camp that he believed a lack of leadership was to blame.
“(Leadership) was a big issue on last year's team, and I mean issue in a bad way,” Holgorsen said.
As the Mountaineers (3-2) get ready to travel to Waco, Texas, to face high-scoring but untested Baylor (3-0) in a game that will serve as a barometer for both teams, Holgorsen has been pleased with the leadership that has stepped forward, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“We're getting tremendous senior leadership out of (defensive linemen) Will Clarke and Shaq Rowell, (safety) Darwin Cook and (linebacker) Doug Rigg. That makes a difference,” Holgorsen said.
How did this develop?
“It's just something that's happened,” said Rowell, a vocal nose tackle who has become the defense's spokesman. “It's not something I've been trying to do.”
But what is a leader?
“There's not a clear-cut definition,” said Clarke, a senior whose game and influence has grown from last season.
“The person who's a leader leads by example, attempts to do everything right and, if they see someone doing something wrong, isn't afraid to tell that person to do the right thing in a tough situation.”
It isn't, however, always a natural thing. Clarke learned a lot from the players he followed.
“Chris Neild and J.T. Thomas were big leaders for me when I was young,” he said.
“They always preached positivity and preached for us to win. Brandon Hogan was like that.”
On the offensive side, Pat Eger, who has played all the line positions at WVU, has his own definition of what makes a leader.
“Someone that does above and beyond what they need to do on and off the field and vocally leads younger kids to get them motivated,” he said.
Eger, like Clarke, looked to players he admired.
“When I first came here, I knew who the leaders were,” Eger said. “I came here with Selvish Capers and Donnie Barclay, Josh Jenkins … they were vocal guys and great leaders.
“Sometimes you wait your turn a little bit, but at the end of the day, whether you are a freshman or a senior, if that role fits, you have to step up and be a leader,” he said.
Bob Hertzel is a freelance writer.
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