West Virginia football coach Neal Brown has one main goal for his team this spring.
“We’re trying to transition from a coach-led team to a player-led team,” Brown said after WVU’s fifth spring practice on Wednesday. “That’s a transition you should be able to make if you have the right guys.
The Mountaineers have gone 11-11 in Brown’s first two seasons as head coach, including a 7-10 mark in Big 12 conference play and a win in the Liberty Bowl last December. Brown thinks this change in leadership is what will prompt his team to take that next step.
“When you have teams where nobody leads, they’re not very good,” Brown explained. “When you have coach-led teams you’re probably about average and when you have player-led teams you have a chance to be elite.”
Brown is taking a direct approach to facilitate the leadership change for next season. The program has created 10 accountability teams for the off-season. Each team is led by a player captain and a coach.
Those 10 captains are quarterbacks Jarret Doege and Garrett Greene, running back Leddie Brown, tight end Mike O’Laughlin, center Zach Frazier, defensive lineman Dante Stills, linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo and defensive backs Alonzo Addae, Sean Mahone and Nicktroy Fortune.
“With our offseason teams we have 10 captains and we have weekly captains meetings,” Brown said. “We give them some say so they make some decisions. I also try to get the pulse of the team. I always open the meetings up with ‘what are our issues and how can I help with any that’s going on?’.”
“Coach Brown’s looking for somebody who’s going to call everybody out, even his friends, no matter who it is,” junior Leddie Brown said of the meetings. “We want everybody on the same page. A responsible person that’s willing to step up and take on that leadership role. Speak to the team when the team’s down, and bring the team up.”
Leddie Brown was a leader on the field for WVU last season, rushing for 1,010 yards and nine touchdowns, but becoming a leader off the field has been more of a process.
“I’m pretty laid back so I have to push myself to do that,” Leddie Brown said. “The meetings are [Coach Brown] telling me what I did good that week from a leadership standpoint and what I didn’t and what I can improve on.”
On defense, Addae said it will be up to older players to make sure the younger players will be ready come fall.
“As an older guy on the defense, I’m looking to set an example for everyone else on the field,” Addae said. “I remember being in that position where I’m coming in as a freshman/sophomore and looking up to the older guys. I’m a sixth-year senior at this point so I have no excuse. I know what’s expected and I know what we need to do so I’m looking to show the guys what needs to be done day in and day out.”
By deciding to return to college for one more season, Addae, one of the team’s starting safeties, is now one of the oldest players on the entire roster.
“I definitely feel like an older guy in the locker room but I feel like it’s great for me to be able to give back to the program that’s done so much for me,” Addae said. “Being able to pour my knowledge and experience into the younger guys and get them ready for the year to come.”
WVU’s spring schedule continues this weekend with practices scheduled for Friday and Saturday and then again next week on Monday and Thursday.