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Leaders begin to emerge for Tigers
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Leaders begin to emerge for Tigers
Posted Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 12:05 am

By Adam Davis

CLEMSON — In a game his freshman year against Florida State University, Clemson University defensive end Maurice Fountain remembers playing a lousy first half.
Fountain recalls former defensive coordinator Reggie Herring getting on his case, and former teammate Bryant McNeal talking to him. McNeal encouraged Fountain and repeated the adage that "winners never quit and quitters never win."

In the second half, Fountain said, he played much better. Now, Fountain is hoping to have the same impact on the Tigers' younger players, as a senior and one of the team's most vocal leaders.

But one important question for the Tigers this season is, do they have enough Fountains? Last season, leadership within the team was crucial to Clemson's remarkable turnaround. Many of last year's leaders are gone, and players and coaches say this year's group is less vocal.

The Tigers believe the combination of a few vocal leaders such as Fountain, along with several upperclassmen who lead by example, will give the young players the direction they need. Finding that guidance is crucial to any team's success, said Dr. Karen Wilson-Starks, a clinical psychologist and leadership expert.

"(Leadership) is probably the most important aspect (of success), believe it or not," Dr. Wilson-Starks said. "If you have all the individual talent that you need in the players, and you have the money to buy the tangible stuff that you need and so-on, and you're minus good leadership, they will not achieve what they could have achieved."

Last year, the Tigers were 5-4 after a humiliating loss to Wake Forest, but they dominated their last four games. Defensive coordinator John Lovett said that finish demonstrated the importance of team leaders.

"The turnaround last year didn't have anything to do with us," Lovett said. "It all had to do with what went on in the locker room — kids pulling together and playing hard. We didn't change what we did. We just went out and kept coaching."

Many of the players who orchestrated last year's turnaround have departed, but Lovett said some are still on the team, so he hopes they learned "what it takes" from last year's experience.

This year, coach Tommy Bowden cited the defensive line as the team's most vocal position, led by seniors Fountain and Eric Coleman, and junior Charles Bennett. Bowden identified senior middle linebacker Leroy Hill and junior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst as leaders who are quiet but effective.

Or, the way Hill puts it is, "We talk when we have to talk."

Dr. Wilson-Starks agreed good leaders do not have to yell. But she said leading by example alone is not enough. She said it is important to "engage the senses" of those being led, so leaders should demonstrate, they should talk, and they may even want to write down a few crucial points.

The keys to leadership, Dr. Wilson-Starks said, are to establish a collective vision; to provide the resources necessary to reach the goal — in this case, training; and to inspire the others to give their best effort.

"As you're able to communicate and do those things that I just mentioned, it doesn't matter whether you do it quietly or loudly," she said. "I think what happens is, if you just show an example and don't talk about it, people could miss the message. So the quieter types, they have to say, 'Watch me. I'm doing thus-and-so. Here is the reason why I'm doing it.' "

On a football team, the man naturally charged with this duty is the quarterback. Whitehurst said it is not in his personality to be vocal, but he has tried to talk more this season, in part because he has fewer vocal teammates.

He said he would wait to see how the season plays out to determine whether he needs to step further to the forefront.

"If it's something that doesn't emerge, if there's not vocal guys, then I've got to do it," Whitehurst said. "I'm in the position that has to do it. But for now, I want to be as positive as I can — I don't want to go out there and yell at everybody. Let's just go out there and have fun."

Bowden said this year's group has done an excellent job of leading by example, mainly because the seniors have missed little practice time. Fountain said one of the biggest things he learned from McNeal was never to complain about hard work, because it could discourage the younger players.

Of course, coaches can be leaders as well, but Dr. Wilson-Starks said people often are more responsive to their peers, in part because they go through the battles together.

"The coaches call the plays," Fountain said, "but you're out there playing, so if you just listen to the coaches, when you get out on the gridiron in between the numbers, the coaches aren't there. So, you've got to have someone to follow out there."

Fountain believes he can be that person, and his teammates agree. Overall, Bowden said if the people he named continue to provide good leadership, then "that's enough." Lovett said that, as long as the players are doing the things they are supposed to do, then leadership is not a problem.

Receivers coach Dabo Swinney said he believes vocal leadership is important, and he is pleased it is beginning to emerge.

"I think that's a concern with every coach on a new team — especially when you had success the year before — is, who's gonna take the team by the horns," Swinney said. "There's only so much you can do as a coach. At some point these players have got to realize, 'this is my football team — this is my senior year, my junior year — and grab hold of guys and bring them with them."
Sunday, August 22
08-22-2004 10:36 AM
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