Oregon Football: 5 Most Important Team Leaders in 2013
The Oregon Ducks have the talent, experience and depth it takes to be the best team in the country, but whether they end up with that title will depend largely on the emergence of team leaders.
Last year's group lost Kenjon Barner on offense and guys like Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and John Boyett on defense. All four of those players displayed the kind of leadership it takes to not only help the team prepare each week but to aid in the development of young players as well.
Now it's those young players who must step up.
There are two kinds of leaders in football. The first is the guy who leads by example. He's the first to show up to practice, the last to leave and gives his full effort whether it's the 7th rep in a technique drill or a big 3rd down late in a bowl game. He's the kind of guy who other players try to emulate but doesn't need to say much to lead his team.
The second is the guy who has a vocal presence wherever he goes. He'll have guys fired up for Tuesday practice and be the first one out of the tunnel, pumping up the crowd, ready to get on the field and clean somebody's clock.
The best kind of leader is somebody who embodies both of these qualities, someone who can make a huge difference just by showing others what kind of effort it takes to get better each day but who also knows when to step in with words of advice or encouragement.
Here are the five most important team leaders for the Oregon Ducks in 2013
5. CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
A year ago at this time many fans wondered who might step up across from CB Terrance Mitchell and help the Oregon secondary become complete.
It was Ifo Ekpre-Olomu who provided that answer loud and clear as the redshirt sophomore made play after play in becoming the Ducks' top defensive back.
So naturally, in order to take the next step in becoming the best all-around player he can be, Ekpre-Olomu must become one of the leaders of the defense.
There are extremely high expectations for the secondary which returns all four starters and a host of experienced backups. The general thought is that the group should not only be the best in the Pac-12, but be among the nation's best as well.
But as we've seen far too often, talent and expectations alone are about as useful as a spare tire in the car of someone who doesn't know how to fix a flat. Ekpre-Olomu must continue to lead by example and make sure this group is truly ready to fulfill expectations and become the best unit on the team.
His play alone should make him a leader, but his ability to inspire others and help his teammates improve is what could make Ifo Ekpre-Olomu one of the most important team leaders in 2013.
4. WR Josh Huff
In some ways, WR Josh Huff and TE Colt Lyerla are a lot alike. Both guys have plenty of talent, and whether they produce or not is sometimes just a matter of how many plays are drawn up for them.
Or, as in the case last season, when they're pulled due to large leads.
But Huff is entering his senior season and the opportunity for him to be one of the team leaders is right in front of him.
One of the reasons why Huff is so important to the morale of the team is his playmaking ability. Most college receivers can make nice catches, but Huff has the kind of game-breaking ability that makes your jaw drop and provides an instant lift to the team. Think about his stiff-arm of Washington (first-round NFL draft pick) cornerback Desmond Trufant, or his diving, fingertip catch in the third quarter of the Civil War.
Both plays showed fans that regardless of how many catches Huff gets, each one is a chance for him to make the highlight reel.
With the presumed addition of several plays to the Ducks' passing attack, look for Huff to not only step up his production, but step up as a team leader as well.
3. C Hroniss Grasu
Oregon's offense will only go as far as Hroniss Grasu takes it, which automatically makes the junior one of Oregon's most important players for 2013.
The 6'3" 297 pound Grasu was already named to the 2013 Rimington Trophy Watch List, so his talent is undeniable.
But while the center position is a key cog in any offense, it's perhaps the key cog in Oregon's offense.
Grasu's relationship with Mariota is hugely important to the success of the offense, and his ability to fire up his fellow linemen is crucial. He's the one they look to before a play, and his effort can set the tone for an entire drive.
The Ducks have had the luxury of putting great centers on the field, from Max Unger to Jordan Holmes and now Grasu. Each guy has a huge influence on the offense as a whole.
Therefore, it's Grasu who must continue to grow and become one of the team leaders in 2013.
2. LB Boseko Lokombo
If you took a survey among fans about which position they were most concerned with for the upcoming season, the linebacker spot would likely win hands down. (Well, maybe Kicker would win, but you get the point.)
Therefore I'll look for Boseko Lokombo, the undisputed veteran of the group, to step up and lead in 2013.
Lokombo exemplifies everything Oregon looks for in a player--he's fast, swarms to the ball and can make plays from anywhere on the field.
But while we have a general idea of what to expect from Lokombo, it's the other guys like Tyson Coleman, Derrick Malone, Rodney Hardrick and Joe Walker who remain relative unknowns.
And it will be Lokombo's ability to lead this group during key moments that could ultimately mean the difference between winning and losing several games.
When the younger players line up out of position or fail to communicate, it will be up to Lokombo to correct the mistakes and make sure they don't happen again.
If Boseko Lokombo can become the most vocal leader on defense, the linebacker position will go from one of concern to one that fans needn't worry about.
1. QB Marcus Mariota
It's a good sign that QB Marcus Mariota had a hoarse voice during spring practice, because it shows that he realizes his leadership is of vital importance to the team.
The report goes on to say the Ducks ran more plays in their first Tuesday practice this past April than they did the season before, which not only bodes well for the offense but it makes those who still think the transition to Mark Helfrich will be rough look rather silly.
Mariota is already an incredible college quarterback, and if I were a betting man I'd say he'll probably be a great professional as well. But his laid-back nature is well-documented and some, myself included, wondered if he could step up and be a vocal leader.
Spring practice appeared to answer that question, and now Mariota must take his new position of team leader and translate that into another great season for him and his teammates.
He's going to get all the headlines and his locker will be the one swarming with reporters following the games. So if, in addition to all the outside attention, Mariota continues to lead by example and with his voice, he'll earn the respect of everyone around him and the Ducks will be a force once more in 2013.