In every team sport in the world there is some form of hierarchy amongst the players on the field. Sometimes the division, or divisions, are clear such as in rugby where the captain is given the license to talk to officials, or in Cricket where the captain has multiple responsibilities such as designating his/her teammates positions on the field. Other sports don't have official titles with such notable responsibilities, but whenever a group of people is created, different levels of leadership take prominence.
The game of American Football somewhat blurs the line between official and natural leadership patterns. Certain players are expected to be greater leaders than others because of the position they play, but expectations are not always met.
Singling out two players, or specific positions, to lead your team can be incredibly difficult. Unlike a standard professional cricket or rugby team, an American football team is much larger and broken down into different groups. American football teams essentially consist of three units combined into one: an offense, a defense and the group that handles the kicking and punting duties known as the Special Teams. While in rugby you have a group of forwards and backs, those two groups often mesh into one another because they share the field at the same time. In American football when one group is on the field, the other two are on the sidelines.
While a professional American football team has a relatively large roster, 53 players, that number can be more than doubled at the college level. Both Navy and Notre Dame could potentially carry rosters of over 100 players to the Aviva Stadium this weekend. Each NCAA school is allowed to carry 85 scholarship players at any given time, but not every player on each team is given a scholarship. Therefore most teams have a minimum of 85 players.
Most of the leadership in college stems from the sidelines as a raft of coaches look to guide young developing players who can range from 16(Amobi Okoye is the youngest ever college player at this age) upwards to 24. However, it is never enough for coaches to lead teams, because coaches are not actively enduring everything that each player on the team is.
Players can't relate to coaches, so instead they look to their natural leaders. In American football, the natural leaders are expected to be playing the quarterback and middle linebacker positions. While there are official captains nominated on each team, those players simply represent the team at the coin toss without having any other official responsibilities.
It is somewhat fraudulent to call those positions of leadership natural, but there is no official rule that says these players must be leaders. It is just the tendency of most teams to look to those players at those positions because of the roles the players play. It just so happens that Notre Dame's starting quarterback and linebacker for the Emerald Isle Classic in Dublin this weekend, are two of the more interesting players playing in the game.
After Notre Dame's starting quarterback for the 2011 season, Tommy Rees, was suspended for the opening game of the year for being arrested, Sophomore Everett Golson seized the opportunity to start his first ever game at this level. Golson won a four quarterback competition that featured highly touted freshman recruit Gunner Kiel.
Golson was a superstar on the scout team last year but didn't get the opportunity to show off his talent properly until the spring game, a game played between the different Notre Dame offenses and defenses. In that game Golson completed 11 of 15 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns, but most significantly he throw any interceptions to the defense.
One significant question mark over Golson that emanated from that game surrounded his body language. He didn't appear to relish the spotlight of leading an offense, but will get the opportunity to fix that this weekend in a real game. At only 19 years of age, Golson still has a lot to learn, but he comes into this game with a respectable resume from his high school days. Golson threw 151 touchdown passes in high school, which was good enough for sixth most nationally in the history of high school football.
Despite winning two state championships in High School football, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly still questioned Golson initially telling ESPN's Mike and Mike radio show, "I can still remember him as a little scrawny kid with those braids and I was underwhelmed, just from the eyeball stance." However, once he started throwing the football and playing in game situations, Kelly quickly changed his mind "I was like, 'Oh, OK,' maybe he is going to be pretty good."
Impressing his head coach in pickup games is one thing, but this weekend Golson will step onto the biggest stage of his very short football path to date. If Golson plays well, there is no reason for the team to automatically revert to Tommy Rees. Rees has a winning college record, but he is not an overwhelmingly talented player to the point that the program is reliant on him.
The quarterback position is doused in some degree of ambiguity at the moment, but the inside linebacker position has never been more certain. Manti Te'o is expected to be one of the top picks in the 2013 NFL draft after turning down the opportunity to enter the 2012 draft. If he had done, he would likely have at worst been a late first round pick(ie top 32 player leaving college football).
When Te'o left high school in 2009, he was almost the consensus number one ranked linebacker recruit for that year. Only one of the major ranking outlets didn't rank Te'o as the top of the bunch, and they had him second overall. Something that is somewhat unusual these days, Te'o is returning to college for his fourth season of football yet is still only 21 years of age and turned down a certain spot in the NFL last year.
Te'o leads by example with his play from the middle linebacker spot on the field. He had a phenomenal 128 tackles last year. To put that in perspective, he only played 13 games so averaged slightly less than 10 tackles per game. To go along with all those tackles, Te'o also had 13.5 tackles for losses and five sacks of the quarterback.
It is rare for a sure thing to stay in college as long as Te'o has, but head coach Brian Kelly is very happy that his leading defensive star wants to finish his degree. While he continues to do that, he will also be able to inspire his teammates with more imposing play on the football field.
When you are attempting to lead over 100 young men at the same time, it is essentially impossible to speak to each one of them and advise them verbally. However when Te'o makes big plays on the field and consistently has his motor moving, everyone in the stadium is inspired by his actions.
While not all onlookers are looking to Te'o to lead them this Saturday, those who aren't can still be inspired or simply revel in the quality that is his talent on show.
Notre Dame are still not 100 percent sure about the leadership emanating from the quarterback position this season, but they definitely have the defensive figure head to carry them to a winning season. That season starts this weekend on unfamiliar shores, against a familiar opponent.
Follow Cian Fahey on twitter for updates on Notre Dame v. Navy this Saturday @Cianaf
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