West Virginia Football’s Biggest Strengths In 2019: No. 5 – Leadership

West Virginia Football’s Biggest Strengths In 2019: No. 5 – Leadership


(Editor’s Note – We previously took a look at West Virginia’s top 10 biggest question marks heading into the 2019 football season. In the second half of this series, we now turn our attention to what we perceive to be the top 10 strengths of Neal Brown’s first Mountaineer squad.)

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5. Leadership – How do you quantify leadership?

In football, there are statistical measurements for just about everything – completion percentage, net punting average, turnover margin, etc., etc., etc.

But how do you measure leadership and its twin companion of team chemistry that often are cited as vital but nearly impossible to gauge?

Neal Brown
West Virginia’s 2019 Big 12 Football Media Day Attendees: TJ Simmons, Keith Washington, Neal Brown, Colton McKivitz and Reese Donahue

“There is no scientific evidence to what camaraderie does,” WVU senior Reese Donahue said recently when asked about this year’s leadership and chemistry. “There’s no GPS you can put on to measure it. There is no 225-pound bench like at the (NFL) Combine that you can tell. But camaraderie is completely underrated. It changes the dynamics of a team and changes how we perform on the field.”

Leadership begets camaraderie, but what begets leadership?

Some of it comes through veteran status, but some of it is just a natural skill. Leadership can be fostered, but it can’t truly be created out of thin air.

West Virginia’s football team has had good leadership in recent years. Elijah Wellman and Al-Rasheed Benton were excellent in that role in 2017 – probably as good as any WVU has ever had – and last year Will Grier, Gary Jennings, David Sills and David Long were the guiding force on the field and off.

Who takes over that all-important leadership role in 2019?

It’s usually difficult to judge from the outside, even for those of us in the media who have regular access to the individuals. Some talk a good game, but are more Eddie Haskell than Winston Churchill. (If you’re not old enough to know either, go to Google.)

You have to be truly embedded to know the real leaders.

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You want leaders who will lift up their brethren, and this year’s West Virginia team appears to have just that. I’m not with these Mountaineers on a daily basis, so I can’t guarantee my perceptions are correct, but I’m fairly confident that Donahue provides strong veteran leadership on the defensive side, as does fellow senior spear safety JoVanni Stewart.

Colton McKivitz and Josh Sills are a pair highly experienced offensive linemen who display great leadership qualities, as does junior wide receiver T.J. Simmons.

Certainly others can step up to provide leadership as well, but those five have all the tangible and intangible ingredients needed for the role. A leader doesn’t have to be a rah-rah guy who is always jumping up and down, but he has to be vocal when the time calls. Be it words of encouragement, advice or even a swift kick whenever necessary, a leader can’t remain silent.

A leader also needs to lead not only vocally but by example. If he’s not willing to play and practice hard and do things the right way, those who follow him will be headed in the wrong direction.

Also it helps greatly if a leader is both a veteran and plays a lot. Those on the lower end of the depth chart tend to listen to those above them.

That’s why McKivitz, Sills, Simmons, Donahue and Stewart seem to fit well into leadership roles, because each checks all those boxes.

Can they be as good in the leadership area as Wellman and Benton, or Long and David Sills? It’s always hard to know for certain, especially for those on the outside.

And even if they are great leaders, how do you truly quantify what that means to a team’s success? As I said, I thought Wellman and Benton were as good in leadership roles as any I’ve seen at WVU, but that 2017 team stumbled at the end and finished 7-6. A late season injury to Grier in 2017, which was followed by three straight losses, overrode any leadership factor, but still, how do you know?

Everyone knows leadership and team chemistry matter greatly, but how can you accurately measure their effects?

The real answer is you can’t, but as in everything, I’d much rather have a team than is talented then one that isn’t, a team that is smart than one that is dumb, and one that has excellent leadership than one that doesn’t.

Will that mean one more win, three, five, 10? Who knows? But if leadership can bring on-field success, my guess is WVU’s veterans will pull this year’s Mountaineers as far as they can possibly go.

Previously In The Series

Strengths #10: Mike Joseph     |     Strengths #9: Position Competition

Strengths #8: Linebacker Potential     |     Strengths #7: Placekicker

Strengths #6: Tight Ends

Big Questions #10: Opponent Strength     |     Big Questions#9: Defensive Front

Big Questions #8: Offensive Line     |     Big Questions #7: Return Game

Big Questions #6: Punting     |     Big Questions #5: Coaches

Big Questions #4: Wide Receivers     |     Big Questions #3: New Defensive Scheme

Big Questions #2: Safeties     |      Big Questions #1: Quarterback

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