Coaches in college football assume a great amount of power.
They have power over what players they recruit and sign. They have power over what players play. They have power over what plays those players run.
There are some things, however, that coaches can’t control. How players perform on the field? How they perform in the classroom? And one more.
Who steps up and leads?
A coach can talk all he wants, but he can’t make it soak in. Obviously LSU Head Coach Les Miles struggled with that leading up to the Towson game-- a game that LSU struggled to put away into the second half.
“No matter how many times I said and mentioned that (Towson was) used to winning and a conference championship team, I don’t know if I got the point across,” Miles said. “Certainly I didn’t.”
In a sport that now spans all twelve months, sometimes a coach’s words become stale and tired. Players in strong locker rooms are able to captivate teammates and inspire performances on the practice field and into the game.
Over the years, LSU has enjoyed true leaders emerging on the field and in the locker room. It’s been vital to the program’s rise to the pinnacle of college football three times in eight years.
It even sparked a tradition, the passing down of the No. 18 from team to team. Junior defensive tackle Bennie Logan earned that honor this season.
“The guys that wore No. 18 before me were great leaders,” Logan said. “They set the foundation for what it means to be a leader and the tradition that comes with wearing No. 18. Me personally, I gotta step my leadership up and be more vocal.”
That vocal leadership is one way to go about it, the other is by acting. Neither is quite as effective individually. Together, the message carries more weight.
Last season’s No. 18, senior safety Brandon Taylor led the team huddle before every game and proceeded to take the field, start all 14 games and finish third on the team in tackles.
The man in the middle of the pregame huddle two years ago? Kelvin Sheppard. The senior linebacker led the 2010 Tigers in stops and was a rock in the locker room.
This year, junior safety Eric Reid has assumed his place at the center of the squad.
“I haven’t changed too much, I’ve just stepped into that leadership role that I wasn’t in last year,” Reid said. “I’ve been a little more vocal, not extremely. I’m still inside my element, and I lead by example most of all. I just focus on doing the right things, and hopefully the guys will follow.”
Another junior who has stepped to the forefront of his unit on defense in junior linebacker Kevin Minter. He now captains a line backing corps without departed seniors Ryan Baker, Stefoin Francois and Karnell Hatcher.
“To be honest with you, no leadership really left with them,” Minter said. “I feel like we’re all kind of in to it. Bennie, Eric Reid, we’re all in it, leading by example. At least we’re trying to.”
Defensively, the Tigers have been strong for the vast majority of the young 2012 season. Questions have arisen about the productivity of the offense in the early going.
A change under center this season seemingly brought a fresh face and an air of stability after four years of quarterbacking turmoil at LSU.
Junior Zach Mettenberger assumed control of the Tiger offense immediately following the BCS Championship Game loss to Alabama. In the weeks that followed, Mettenberger organized workouts with his wide receivers and drew rave reviews from his cast of pass catchers for grabbing the reigns of the unit.
Mettenberger is relaxed in nature and is quick to talk about “having fun out there” in practice. His shaggy hair, laid back approach to interviews and now infamous mustache all pieced together his persona.
He took things a step further walking down Victory Hill Saturday by donning a maroon turtleneck in an effort to mimic actor Will Farrell’s famous character Ron Burgundy from the film “Anchorman”.
After another even performance, Mettenberger showed up without the mustache Monday.
“Obviously our offense wasn’t clicking,” Mettenberger said. “Just being a little superstitious, hopefully this changes things up.”
Mettenberger is just one of the upperclassmen on the offense expected to lead, but a quick look around the unit doesn’t exactly reveal a bevy of vocal playmakers.
Sixth-year offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk is certainly vocal, he spoke for the team following the incident at Shady’s Bar last fall. But moving to a new position has been a struggle for Dworaczyk at times, and he did not play on Saturday night. Tough to lead from the bench.
Senior Russell Shepard has never shied away from a microphone. He also has not produced to the obscene expectations many placed on him as a senior in high school.
Senior center P.J. Lonergan has started on the offensive line for three seasons, but he’s never one to bark orders.
“Personally I’m not a big vocal guy,” Lonergan said. “I don’t like to hoop and holler and yell at everybody. I try to lead by example.”
Perhaps it is Mettenberger’s time to become the face of the offense. He did, after all, watch a pair of seniors operate the team last season.
Lonergan praised his signal caller’s leadership on Monday.
“I think he’s better than the quarterbacks we’ve had in previous years at really commanding the huddle,” Lonergan said.
With goals as lofty as those set in front of this 2012 team, stepping in as the new quarterback has more than its fair share of hardships.
“LSU is a tough place to be a quarterback at, for sure,” Mettenberger said. “It’s a lot of highs and lows. It’s all about how you bounce back from things. If we go down there to Florida this week and play well, it’s going to be satisfying.”