By John Shinn
There’s no definitive way to put a value on leadership on a football field. Coaches are hired and fired based upon their ability to lead. But there’s nothing they can do about making it mandatory in the huddle or the locker room.
It’s a very precious item for football teams. Great teams must have it in abundance. Those that fail to meet expectations typically point to the lack of it as the reason.
Oklahoma could have as many as six first-year starters on offense this season. It’s a scary thought considering it’s the biggest turnover since 2005 — the only time in the last decade the Sooners failed to win at least 10 games.
New starters on the offensive line and at receiver have been enough for some to predict a down year for the Sooners. If coaches are worried, their poker faces are in postseason form.
Bob Stoops said there’s a big reason he isn’t concerned about having first-year starters playing key offensive roles.
“They’re going to look around, and there’s a lot of guys that have played a lot of excellent football, and they feel they’ve got to live up to playing like these guys,” Stoops said. “I would expect and hope that that pressure would be there, that you guys need to play at this level. This is what we’re used to.”
Peer pressure isn’t always a negative. It can create a standard everyone agrees to maintain. Every college football program would love to have a high one that players strive every day to meet.
The belief is OU has enough experienced leaders in players like quarterback Sam Bradford, left tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jermaine Gresham, fullback Matt Clapp, tight end/fullback/center Brody Eldridge and running backs DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown, that going about things the right way will easily rub off upon those starting for the first time.
“It’s good to have these older guys who you can lean on,” redshirt freshman center Ben Habern said. “It makes things easier when you have guys who can tell you exactly how you need to play.”
That will be critical throughout the practices leading into the Sept. 5 season opener against BYU in Arlington, Texas. The preseason is usually a good barometer for the season ahead. Struggle through the dog days of August and things and you’re bound to carry those struggles into the season.
Coaches haven’t copped to any negative vibes. They’re pleased with the example the veterans are setting.
The veterans also know they’re being watched as they go about setting the standard for those less experienced.
“What you do really does wear off on other guys,” fullback Matt Clapp said. “When you see a guy drive block a guy off the field, other guys see that and elevate their play. It makes them more competitive.”
It’s something younger players have bought into through yhe offseason and early in preseason camp. They’re looking to be led and OU has plenty of leaders.