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I arrived at BYU during a stretch in the early '80's when my quarterbacks were Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco - two Super Bowl winners, one led us to the National Championship and one is enshrined in Pro Football's Hall of Fame.
I spent time in huddles with all three. In my opinion, McMahon was the most natural leader; he was the most inspirational and led by sheer force of will. Young's leadership style was both learned and innate. Bosco was the least gifted leader of the three, but his shortcomings were only heightened because he followed the other two.
Ideally, the quarterback is a strong leader. By its very nature, the position requires some measure of it. For some it comes in spades but as Bosco showed, it's possible to get by if you are surrounded by skilled players, especially if some of them are gifted leaders.
Bosco and the 1984 team had the luxury of a host of charismatic and very local team leaders to take up the slack - Glen Kozlowski, Trevor Matich, Kyle Morrell and Kurt Gouveia. They were all starters. I don't say this to be self-deprecating or in false modesty, but I didn't consider myself one of the team leaders. Why? Because I wasn't a starter. That doesn't diminish my contribution to the team. My role was to provide the spark that often ignited our offense. My returns energized the team for spurts but you can't lead a football team from the bench, which is where I spent most of that season. We were successful because we all accepted our roles, whether it was limited or grand.
By most accounts, Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson are both natural and charismatic leaders. But ultimately, how their teammates respond to them will have more to do with their performance on the field than just their leadership style. Truth is Bosco's backup, Blaine Fowler, was much more charismatic and vocal - evidenced by Blaine's long career as an analyst. But we followed Robbie despite his leadership deficiencies because he made the right reads, delivered the ball to his playmakers and he displayed enormous courage in the biggest games. He led us more by the power of his example than by his words.
Once Jake Heaps was yanked from the game in the 2nd quarter on Saturday, the team naturally turned their focus from him to Nelson. Of course, Nelson didn't get much help, what with dropped balls, shanked punts and clearly, Riley's own ineffectiveness.
What I saw in Colorado Springs Saturday was a dearth of leadership on the 2010 team. Perhaps one reason a starting quarterback hasn't been named is THE guy hasn't emerged. Maybe he will if Bronco just picks one, I don't know. I just know Saturday provided myriad opportunities for leaders to emerge and no one stepped up. In my experience, that guy can't be Joshua Quezada - not because of his age, but because he's backing up JJ DiLiugi. Not Ross Apo, who is injured. Nor can it be punter Riley Stephenson.
Who can it be?
Certainly Riley Nelson, if that's where Bronco is leaning. Maybe Matt Reynolds, the best offensive lineman on the team and expected to be a high draft pick if he chooses to leave early. Perhaps Eathyn Manumaleuna, who has shown flashes. How about Andrew Rich? Romney Fuga? Anybody who is playing on a regular basis. Because football does require you to "walk the talk."
And the talk I don't want to hear is, "It seemed they really wanted this one more than we did. They are guys who are defending our country, and this was a war to them, and my hats off to them."
Hey, tip your hats to them because they did want it more. But their guys are really going to war. Saturday wasn't war to them. Afghanistan is. And many of them will be going there, where leadership is a matter of life and death.
(Photo courtesy Bryan Oller, The Gazette)