LEWISTON – Darryl Monroe’s credibility as an orator has already landed him regularly in front of TV cameras and in the ears of his teammates, and it is in these ways the sophomore linebacker continues to establish himself as one of Washington State’s most outspoken leaders.
He talks, people listen, no matter that he is still relatively green as a college football player. And so it was that Monroe found himself standing before the entire team after a practice earlier this week. It had been particularly physical, with offensive and defensive players fighting one another throughout the day. A few of them were still arguing when practice ended.
That’s when Monroe addressed the team.
“He stood up and said, ‘Hey, we’re a family, we’re brothers. It’s OK to fight, but leave it on the field,’” recalled senior center Elliott Bosch. “Because when we brought it up, there were guys still arguing and stuff. A year ago, no one would have spoken up. Everyone would have just been arguing with each other.”
Therein lies one of the biggest differences between the Cougars in Year 2 of the Mike Leach era and the Cougars last season, when dissention and resistance reigned: There seems to be more consistent leadership coming from the players, instead of coaches being forced to set the tone.
It’s evident on defense, where Monroe and other lead-by-example players such as Xavier Cooper and Deone Bucannon have emerged as team captain candidates. And offensively, quarterback Connor Halliday said it’s obvious the coaching staff – Leach specifically – is deferring to his players when it comes to handling those sort of things.
“I think last year when we’d have a lull or the offense would make a couple mistakes, he went right to up-downing us and right to getting on us,” Halliday said, “and I think he’s given me a little bit of control of either bringing up the offense or kind of picking them up in a positive way, or picking them up with getting on some guys. So I think that’s the biggest difference.”
Understand: The Cougars weren’t void of leadership last season. Seniors Jeff Tuel and Travis Long were as respected as anybody and were frequently asked to answer questions from the media after tough losses, a task they couldn’t have enjoyed but completed anyway.
But the big change this year – through eight practices, anyway – is that players feel more responsible for chiming in when they know things aren’t being done properly.
If the tempo of practice was off last year, or if energy was lacking, Leach more often than not was the one who stepped in and informed everyone that their performance was not to his liking.
Now, it seems players are more comfortable offering positive or negative reinforcement on their own.
“There’s a lot less things to handle this year than last year, because our players have taken responsibility for themselves and others,” Leach said.
That applies away from the field, too.
“I think the younger guys have older guys to look at finally and say, ‘OK, I’m going to do it like this. They’re doing it the right way,’” Bosch said. “Those are the leaders, where when I was young, you knew the older guys weren’t really doing it the right way or doing what they were supposed to be doing.”
Of course, this is all very easy to say now, with the season still three weeks from starting and optimism running high. Leach is sure to note that the truest form of leadership is that which is done on the sidelines during games, because “you’re on the sideline. They’re out there. You can do it in a timeout here or there, but between plays, you need it to be the players.”
Leach generally rattles off the same group of names when asked who those players might be. It usually includes most of the offensive line – Bosch among them – and most of the defensive front, as well as Monroe, Halliday and Bucannon.
Still, says junior defensive end Logan Mayes, “you never really know until you start playing those games and things get hard. Then you see who really steps up.”