By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
There comes a time on every team in every season when leadership has to step forward within the confines of the locker room.
This is as true on the West Virginia University rifle team as it is on the football team, whose aim suddenly has gone astray and is faced with having its season end before it begins.
Coaches, of course, try to do what they can do and, in truth in college sports, they probably have more influence than do their professional brethren, and WVU’s Dana Holgorsen has stepped up his leadership role in the wake of a 2-2 start and embarrassing 37-0 defeat to border rival Maryland.
But in situations like the one the Mountaineers are facing, some leadership from within is going to have to develop and develop rapidly for off the evidence taken from the Maryland game more humiliation may lie ahead as the next two games on the schedule are the two best and highest-scoring teams in the Big 12.
The problem, as it presents itself, is that the unit that appears least in need of leadership and direction is the defense, which has emerged as the strength on this team. It is there that nearly all of the leadership on the team exists, for offensively the unit is young and unproven.
While nose tackle Shaq Rowell stepped forth in the gloom of Saturday’s locker room to say things that had to be said, establishing himself as something of a folk hero at least among a media corps starved to hear something beyond coaching propaganda, leadership is lacking.
Defensively, Rowell and Will Clarke up front offer leadership, as does Doug Rigg from a linebacker spot and Darwin Cook and young Karl Joseph as safeties, but on the offensive side you have little experience, many people rushed into the program from around the world and a freshman quarterback who was not even allowed to speak with the media on Tuesday following the Maryland game, let alone in the immediate moments following.
Say what you will about Geno Smith, but win or lose he never missed a chance to be the team’s spokesman that the quarterback must be if he is to have the respect of his teammates.
We tried on Tuesday to speak with those who lead and don’t follow, asking just what they felt they could or should do at this most trying moment.
“You don’t let your emotions take control,” offered Will Clarke, who is coming off his best game as a Mountaineer, according to the coaches. “You go back to the things that made you a leader. You stay calm, cool, collected and lead the right way.”
And that is? If he had to get one point across to his team, what would it be?
“That you only lost one conference game and you have eight more conference games left. The season doesn’t end losing 37-0 to Maryland,” he said.
Rigg is another to be looked up to, coming back from a head injury after missing just a week, going out there and trying to stem an unstemmable tide.
“You have to keep the morale up,” he said. “A lot of bad stuff is going around and you hear it, stuff about our season crumbling, but I’m a senior and I don’t have time to rebuild. We’re communicating to the younger guys that it’s hard to win in college football. It’s going to be a battle every game.
“Even though you lost, you just can’t throw in the season. You have to come out fighting every game.”
On the offensive side, Pat Eger spent much of his time repeating much of the coaches’ mantra but finally narrowed it down to this:
“Everyone has to get better at what they need to do, and all the pieces will come together. If everyone focuses on that this week, we’ll be good to go next week.”
Forget Maryland, was the message, and forget Oklahoma State. Concentrate, instead, on yourself, on your job, on making yourself a better player for the parts, should they improve, will improve the whole.
And Quinton Spain, quiet leader at tackle who is more thoughtful than one might imagine, he offered his own advice to his teammates.
“I just talked to the players and told them that was an embarrassment, what we did. We all had a bad game. We have to put it in the past and move on, just like Oklahoma,” he said, failing to mention that it was Georgia State lying ahead then rather than Oklahoma State.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.