Good leadership is essential on any team. College football teams need a number of players to step up and encourage the rest to work hard and come together as one unit. With good leadership, amazing results are possible. Without it, results will be mixed at best.
WIth spring practice now over, Illinois players are basically on their own until fall camp. These next three months will go far to determine whether this team can compete with the rugged teams on its 2010 schedule.
Will the players come back in top shape and with more understanding of the offensive and defensive schemes than they have now? Or will they lose sight of their goals and have to repeat spring lessons in Rantoul. If it's the latter, a winning season will be hard to accomplish.
Zook calls this period Phase Three.
"We're now in the third phase of the year. The first phase is recruiting, the second is winter conditioning and spring football. At the beginning and end of that phase, we have a team meeting. At the beginning we say what we want to accomplish. At the end, we say what we've done. This is where we are, and this is where we need to get to. Making sure we're doing the things we need to be doing."
Learning a new offense and defense takes time. Players on both side of the ball confessed to some confusion through spring ball. The fog has begun to lift, but Zook knows everything will make more and more sense to his charges as they continue to contemplate their roles.
"There's gonna be a lot of competition, not only for the rest of this spring but also in the fall. I really believe on both sides of the football, these guys will continue to improve through the summer. It's amazing. They'll be watching tape."
Zook and his assistants will formulate a plan for the players, goals to accomplish over the summer. They will spend time with Strength and Conditioning Coach Lou Hernandez, who will no doubt get them in top shape for Camp Rantoul. But will they organize themselves, making sure every player gets in his playbook and comes back better and more aware than now? Zook believes so.
"We'll be talking about things they have to do in the summer. We'll actually go over our plan with them then. That's something that hasn't been done in the past. It's a great idea. These are things you're expected to do. We can't be there. I really believe the leadership is such that they'll get it done."
Zook says the leadership will come from several sources.
"On the offensive line, all those guys. Jeff Allen has done a tremendous job of leading. Believe it or not, in his own way I think Mikel (Leshoure) has kind of stepped up and shown some leadership.
"Receivers, they're pulling for each other. Jarred (Fayson), I think A.J. Jenkins has become a leader. We're very impressed with the way he's handled himself. A.J. is a different person. Eddie (McGee) is a fiery guy and will do whatever he can do to help this football team. So I think there's a little more leadership than you might think."
Offensively, Zook is counting on the quarterbacks to get everyone organized for regular workouts. Despite his youthfulness, he singles out Nathan Scheelhaase as one who he expects to lead effectively.
"There's no question Nathan has stepped up. We said at the beginning it doesn't matter if you're a freshman, a redshirt freshman or a senior, the leadership's gonna come."
Clay Nurse has played a leading role for the defense all spring. Zook singles out several other defensive players as well.
With his livelihood threatened by a fandom impatient for success, and with so many changes on both sides of the ball, does Zook feel more stress this spring?
"Actually, it's been easier to date. You try to cover every little thing you can. Obviously, you can't cover everything. It's important that leadership continues to step up this summer because we've got to continue to work and get better."