When Aaron Murray decided to come back to Georgia as a fifth-year senior he gave Mark Richt sustained senior leadership.
Senior leadership is one of those infinite qualities that will make average teams better and good teams flirt with greatness.
You find out what kind of senior leadership you have on a team when you hit adversity like Georgia has. Leaders become more important to make sure players stay the course and finish the drill.
Boston Celtics icon Larry Bird said, “Leadership is diving for a loose ball, getting the crowd involved, getting other players involved. It’s being able to take it as well as dish it out. That’s the only way you’re going to get respect from the players.”
Bradwell and Liberty County’s senior football players have seen their share of adversity. But in their final year in high school, both teams have seniors who rise to be strong leaders for their teams. That leadership has changed the dynamic of the both programs on and off the field.
Liberty County linebacker Raekwon McMillan remembers 2-8 records in his freshman and sophomore years and wanted more for himself and his team.
“We knew that we had to work harder to get better, and we started pushing ourselves and other players started to follow along working harder in the weight room and in practice,” McMillan said.
The hard work paid off for the Panthers, who finished 6-4 last season but still missed the playoffs. Tonight is the Panthers seniors’ final home game against South Effingham; if they do not win, it will be their final game.
However, the seniors have had a goal since they were freshman — to get to the state playoffs.
“In the past, the seniors weren’t really as serious as you need to be and didn’t push to be the best we could be as a team. We have worked hard, and we aren’t finished. This season is a product of 2014,” Panther lineman Kharn Collier-Ellison said.
Leadership being provided by seniors is starting to plant seeds in the younger players.
“Their leadership is helping us as a team on and off the field. The seniors make us mind our P’s and Q’s,” Liberty freshman safety Richard LeCounte said.
During the past few years, Bradwell Institute also has faced situations in which it didn’t have the strong leadership it needed.
A regime change that brought former Camden County co-defensive coordinator Adam Carter to take over the program hasn’t had the same amount of time to see leadership evolve among the seniors as in the case of the Liberty County seniors. Many Bradwell seniors, though team leaders before, were thrust into more vocal leadership roles during summer workouts last June. Team members had to make 80 percent of four-days-a-week 6 a.m. workouts to be able to have a chance to dress and play varsity football.
The work in the summer is paying dividends for the Tigers, who have been competitive this season.
“The kids have never quit at any point, in any game. They are going to fight as hard as they can to win regardless of the score,” said Frank Troup, a former BI quarterback and current assistant coach.
Even as some seniors have been thrust into more vocal roles, like quarterback LaBaron Anthony and center Sterling Burns, there are those who lead by example, like kicker Robert Miller.
“We have bought into the schemes that coach Carter has brought in and what he is trying to accomplish,” Tigers senior cornerback Cameron Riles said. “One of the greatest things that we are seeing is how classes below us are seeing the example we are setting and they want to be successful, so they are starting to develop leadership skills as our underclassmen.”
One sign of the leadership that has developed for the Tigers is the confidence.
“We have a lot of senior leaders that want to show us the right thing to do,” Bradwell junior linebacker Isiah Barnes said. “We have worked hard, and through that we have gotten better and that gives us confidence to be successful.”