The progression of players from program participants to leaders is usually a routine one in most programs. Freshmen enter and learn the ropes. Some begin challenging for playing time, and begin to develop their voice in the locker room. Others, but nature of personality or example, also gain the mantle of leadership. As the move through their junior and senior seasons, the become those players that others look and respond to.
At West Virginia this year, though, that process might not be the norm. While there are upperclassmen that have been through that progression, the low number of scholarship seniors (12) means that the Mountaineers might have to look to some players who haven't progressed along that traditional path. The question is, can a junior college player or a transfer step into a leadership role, especially if he hasn't been on campus for a long time?
Juco players, especially those that have three years in the program and have been around for a couple of years, can certainly do so. On this year's team, Shaq Rowell would be Exhibit A in that regard. However, can a juco who just arrived, or even one that has just been in school since January? Taking it one step further, can late-career transfers do the same thing?
Head coach Dana Holgorsen believes so, even though some of those candidates on this year's team have only been around for a short while.
"We talked about that last night in our team meeting. Everybody in the whole room can become leaders. They have to lead themselves first and do everything right, and then they got to play."
Given that, there doesn't seem to be any hindrance to newcomers developing into leaders more quickly than normal. There's also the interesting angle to the last phrase of Holgorsen's statement, which might seem to indicate that they have to make a quick mark on the field. However, given the varying types of leadership that exist, the third-year head coach isn't limiting the search to that type of player at all.
"If I ask you to define a leader, I would get a hundred different answers in this room," Holgorsen explained. "Once they can get on the field, one of our best leaders may be a guy that plays six snaps a game. It just depends on how you want to define a leader."
With less than four weeks to go until the start of the season, the search will have to progress quickly. Neither Holgorsen nor a couple of other assistant coaches were ready to identify any candidates to step into those roles, but that doesn't mean they don't see signs of them developing.
"I think it will happen," Holgorsen said. "Based on what I've seen today, if we put guys in specific spots to get a lot of playing time, and if they can adjust to how we do things around here, I think that can happen pretty quick.
One of the subkeys to developing that leadership is communication -- a factor that Holgorsen mentioned more than once in describing the goals of fall practice. It needs to improve in all areas -- from coaches to players and between players -- and especially in the latter situation. A leader might exhibit all of the traits necessary to be a voice of command in the locker room and on the field, but if he can't show it, either by actions or in words, he's not likely to have a big effect.
"Communication needs to exist It's one of the things we worked on, it's one of the things we're focusing on," Holgorsen elaborated. "Was it bad? No. Was it Phenomenal? No. Is it where we want it to be? Not yet. We'll keep working on it. It's something that needs to exist every day. If we're not communicating then people don't do what we want them to do, then we've got a problem."