Ifo Comfortable with Vocal Role, Leader on Defense
Eugene– With all of the attention given to the depth charts on the field, questions surrounding who will get how many touches and what position someone will play, there is major void that faces every college team that seldom gets mentioned. You see, for as talented as a team is on the field, there is a demand for an equal amount of leadership off of it. Just as seniors graduate and move on from the flock for Oregon and voids are left on the depth chart, there are voids left in locker room as well.
For this ’13 Oregon squad, the development of their leaders will begin during the spring, and it’s not as easy plugging in the fastest Duck at a spot, handing him the ball, and telling him to run.
Leadership, especially on a football team, is a delicate balance of talent, work ethic, character, and charisma. There are emotional leaders that typically lead off a pre-game montage with their orchestrated team chants, and leaders who simply motivate a team with a way they carry themselves.
Say what you want about how many four star players a team has, leadership trumps it all. If you want any proof, look no further than the ’06 Oregon squad, a team I played on and thus was very familiar with.
That team had over a dozen–yes a dozen– eventual NFL draft picks starting for it on any given Saturday. Our record that year? 7-6 with a humbling loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. I can tell you first hand that our team lacked the leadership that typically rallies a team during a tough spell in a game, or will challenge players not carrying their load.
Enough with the history lesson though, the current Ducks have leadership opportunities created by the vacancies of players such as Kenjon Barner and Dion Jordan. The top candidates are mix of offensive and defensive stars that will lead the team in a variety of ways.
On offense you of course have to start with Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas. These two are your lead by example players, they won’t be rivaling Ray Lewis for pre-game speeches, but their game breaking ability and ice-cold veins help them deliver for the Ducks during critical points of the game. On the defensive side, you’ll find more vocal leaders in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Brian Jackson. These two are battle tested and have the charisma to lead the charge of Ducks behind the Harley and out the tunnel at Autzen each Saturday.
Finally, every team has one or two bench players; or even walk-ons, that emerge as leaders through their tireless efforts in practice every day. These are the guys that will expose any starters going through the motions during practice. Players like these will work their way up through scout team, eventually onto a special teams squad, then provide highlight week after week with their exceptional and hustle that typically goes unnoticed during a 45 point Oregon routing. Want proof, look no further than Ayele Forde, who’s now earned a scholarship after busting his tail on and off the field since he arrived in 2010.
With everyone’s eyes on the field and glued to the scoreboard during the season, it will be the under the radar development of Oregon’s leadership that will be dictate their success this season.