When Case Keenum and Matt Nicholson got hurt last year, coach Kevin Sumlin watched his team fall into a leadership vacuum.
Keenum and Nicholson, well-respected senior starters, were no longer at practices and games to help their teammates, both on the field and off. Young players simply did not know how to lead, or perhaps did not feel it was their place to step up and say something. The other seniors were simply not used to leading because they had deferred to Keenum and Nicholson.
So Sumlin decided to try something a little different this season. Borrowing an idea from TCU coach Gary Patterson, Sumlin decided to form a leadership council. Two players from each class are on the council, and Sumlin already feels it has made a difference.
“We learned something as coaches last season,” Sumlin said. “We lost some senior leadership and it was hard for those other guys to step into that void. Coaches don’t play. A lot of things happen on the field that guys have to talk about. By the time you get on the sideline, it’s too late. So now it starts with these guys, to help get their teammates going.”
When players returned from winter break, Sumlin told them he wanted to form the council. He put each class in separate corners of the room and had the players in each group vote on two representatives. They are freshmen offensive linemen Bryce Redman and Rowdy Harper; sophomores David Piland (quarterback) and Zeke Riser (defensive line); juniors Phillip Steward (linebacker) and Jacolby Ashworth (offensive line); seniors Keenum and Justin Johnson (receiver).
Those eight players wear different colored shirts during workouts and are expected to be at each one. He wants players to discuss issues among themselves and bring them to the coaching staff. They are spokesmen and representatives, and also are responsible for getting their teammates motivated. So far, Sumlin believes communication between players and coaches has greatly improved.
“What we did last year wasn’t working,” Sumlin said. “You learn. I’ve seen already from a communication standpoint that young guys have different problems than fifth-year seniors. The communication has been better. Let’s see if our record is better.”