Ask 10 different veterans on the Colorado football team who the leader of the team is and you get eight different answers.
Coach Jon Embree welcomed the results of that informal poll conducted by the Camera on media day Saturday as good news for his program. Embree said it's a sign that the 14-member leadership council he established in the offseason with representatives of every class is working. He also believes it shows his efforts are succeeding to change the culture of the fractured locker room he inherited from Dan Hawkins.
“It also lets me that we know each other,” Embree said. “Last year, I asked one of our players
“As I tell our players, we're not going to have the best players, but that doesn't mean we can't be the best team. We can't be the best team if we don't know each other. If we don't care for each other, if we don't respect each other, we don't have a chance. I feel like that's there.”
Right in the middle of the first two-a-day of training camp, the Colorado football program conducted media day at the Dal Ward Center. Players and coaches mingled with media who don't regularly cover the team and those that do for about two hours between the morning and afternoon practices.
Embree said the first week of practices have gone well, but there is still a large volume of work to do and the coaching staff is nowhere near announcing a starting quarterback. He continued to praise members of the freshmen class and reiterated that fans can expect to see plenty of fresh faces on the football field this fall.
When the pressure is on and a play needs to be made, who will those youngsters look to for leadership?
After listening to Embree, it could be that the confident members of the 2012 recruiting class might just trust in themselves. Embree said a lot of freshmen have already proven they can hang with their older teammates by making a slew of plays in the first week.
The player other players mentioned most in our leadership survey was senior linebacker Jon Major, which makes sense because Major served as a team captain in 2011 and led the Buffs in tackles. Major said he takes pride in knowing his teammates respect him, but he doesn't feel like he's alone in providing leadership.
“That's the kind of person I want to be, that ice water in the veins, calm and cool when things get crazy,” Major said.
Major said he believes there is a nice blend of leadership styles among the leaders on this year's team. He said he chooses to lead by example, but that doesn't mean he won't say something when it needs to be said. He said he has “no problem at all” doing so.
“The good news is there is a lot of guys who will say it already,” Major said. “So I think that's huge to have. Maybe that was what was lacking before. I feel like the leadership on this team is really starting to excel. We've seen a huge number of players stepping up.”
Major is one of just eight seniors on this year's team. It's the second smallest group of seniors since the school began keeping track of such statistics. Other players named as leaders in our survey were linebacker Doug Rippy, safety Ray Polk, defensive linemen Will Pericak and Chidera Uzo-Diribe, offensive lineman David Bakhtiari, quarterback Connor Wood and wide receiver Paul Richardson.
Only one of the players named himself as a leader. Richardson did not point to himself when asked the question.
“Because that's not the type of player I am,” Richardson said. “Even if I were to see myself as a leader, if my teammates don't see me as a leader, then it's not relevant at all.”
With so many young players expected to contribute and some who will fill significant roles, Richardson said leadership isn't his biggest concern with this season's team. He played as a true freshman two years ago and said it's important for those freshmen who play this year to handle the adversity they will face.
“My biggest concern is the guys that are inexperienced, when they get their shot and they do really well and then they have that moment where they don't do as well, being able to take that criticism and being able to learn humility,” Richardson said. “...I think that's my biggest concern, them being able to deal with that well, them being able to deal with not being praised and they're like, 'Oh, I'm not doing as well as I was before.' It's how they respond to that. That's big.”