Rams looking to fill leadership void

Eric Wolf

Colorado State football coach Mike Bobo is looking for a lot of things heading into the 2016 season.

In senior linebacker Deonte Clyburn, Bobo thought that he would at least have a strong leadership presence returning to his team.


Then the news broke that Clyburn would most likely miss the 2016 season and Bobo was left searching for even more.

It’s apparent that after the first week of fall camp, Bobo is still looking for that leadership void to be filled by someone else. It does not have to be one player, it could be by committee.

Center Jake Bennett, linebacker Kevin Davis, safety Jake Schlager and defensive lineman Jakob Buys have been singled out by the coach from spring camp into fall for their leadership potential, but something is still missing.

For one, it is hard to replace the in-your-face intensity Clyburn brought to the team. Being able to hold other players accountable the way Clyburn did is something Bobo wants to see in some other players.

After a particularly sluggish practice on day five of fall camp, Bobo did not hesitate in saying what he thought about the team’s leadership up until this point.

“We did not see the leadership today,” Bobo said. “We got a bunch of guys who like to say they play division one football and say they play for CSU. They don’t love the game.”

With the amount of youth and inexperience on the football team, Bobo needs to find more guys stepping into the role that Clyburn once filled. He needs his players to go out and compete with the same intensity every day. In order to do that, he needs that leadership.

“Leading by example,” is a phrase that gets thrown out often, but Bobo took a firm approach in his stance on that phrase.

“I’m a believer that there is no doing it by example,” the coach said.  “That’s the way we are supposed to do it one hundred percent of the time. That’s the expectation for everybody.”

Bobo isn’t looking for guys to set the standard on the field by the way they come to work. He wants all of his players filling that role. What he wants is his guys on his team to take some accountability for that standard.


Colorado State University football practice on August 8th, 2016 (Luke Walker/ Collegian)

“As a leader, sometimes it’s calling people out and voicing your opinion. You’ve got to say that this is how we are gonna do it here,” Bobo said. “Just by example to me is not leadership. Does that mean I’m calling you out in a negative way, no, but I am showing you the way and I’m telling you this is how it’s done, it’s a combination of the two.”

He has leaders who are viewed in that “example” mold, but he needs to find players who are willing to push that envelope. Bobo is still looking for guys to fill the vocal void. There’s been pressure on veteran guys to step up, but being a leader is not always as simple as having experience in the program, and on the football field.

“I don’t think you can force leadership on anybody,” Bobo said. “You don’t need to have twenty leaders, you need to have a handful of guys, and then you have to have good teammates who are going to respect the leadership and fall in the line.”

Defensive coordinator Marty English shares a similar mindset. 

“I think leaders are leaders, and the guys that aren’t leaders aren’t going to be leaders,” English said.

Being a vocal and expressive leader comes naturally. It’s not for everybody.

One player who has been somewhat forced into that vocal leadership role when it may not be natural is senior linebacker Kevin Davis.

That’s not a knock on Davis, he is one of the team’s returning leaders and best players, and if there was a lead by an example guy he would be the one. But he is by nature, a subdued individual. Expressing himself vocally, and to an entire team, is not what he is known for.

He’s been working on his vocal leadership, and it does not always have to be an inspiring speech or an in-game vocal outburst. It could simply be just reiterating Bobo’s standard to the guys who might need to hear it.

“I think I’m still working on the vocal part a little bit,” Davis said. “I think just telling the guys the little things like running off of the field or tucking in the jerseys. That goes a long way with them and they will listen to us older guys.”

It’s the same way with established cornerback Tyree Simmons. He is a quiet guy, but he’s been working on his relationship with the younger guys on the team. Teaching them in practice, encouraging them along the way, and reminding them to have fun every day, even if it is work.

Filling Deonte Clyburn’s shoes is a tall order for any of the players on the current roster, but it has to come from somewhere. Veterans like Davis and Simmons have done their part to bring along the other guys in their position groups, but it can only go so far.

Coach Bobo wants to see men step up and lead his football team. Players who are willing to accept his challenge and hold others accountable for it. Who that is going to be is still a mystery.

Collegian Sports Reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5