By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer
When one player didn’t show up to a 6 a.m. Friday practice before the Green and Gold game, head football coach Matt Rhule sent everyone home.
The bigger picture is creating a team mentality, Rhule said — even when one player doesn’t show up, it isn’t the full team.
“We’re a team. It’s not just the guys hanging on the banner. It’s a team,” Rhule said. “So if we’re not all here on time the day before a game, is our mindset right? So we came back that afternoon. Trying to get 100 18-to-22-year-olds to think of it in terms of a team is not easy, but I relate it back to me. I didn’t want to be out there standing outside in 90-degree heat, but that’s what the team needs. We just need to keep elevating the standard of what we expect.”
One percent better is a phrase that echos on the football field and is beginning to be instilled in each player. Not only focused on in-field play, the phrase correlates to taking control. Senior defensive end James Lockhart said when practice was canceled, it was time for the team’s veterans to step up.
“We met outside by the goal post and we were like, ‘You know what? We’re going to do something. We’re already up here. Let’s do some drills,’” Lockhart said. “Me and James Lynch grabbed the defensive line and I worked with the ends. We did pass rush moves. James and the defensive tackles did some of their drills. Everybody else, the leaders, the veterans of the groups, grabbed their positions and we worked on things.”
Lockhart also emphasized that Rhule has especially stressed the importance of leadership.
“All these coaches really want to do is to coach guys,” Lockhart said. “They just want to come in and talk football. They don’t want to have an unnecessary distractions on or off the field to affect the team. He really wants the older guys to set an example and bring guys along with them.”
Other than stressing older players to step up vocally and constantly improving on-the-field expectations, Rhule is focused on mentally developing his team.
“We’re still somewhat of a young-minded team. We’re trying to mature. What I mean by that is, you can’t do what you’re asked to do when it makes sense to you, you also have to do what doesn’t make sense to you to be part of the team,” Rhule said. “For them to understand, as I told them, you know I spent two years trying to explain everything to them, this is why we do this, this is why we do that […] it’s time to grow up as a football team, grow up as program and have a championship mindset where we attack everything.”
A well-rounded team academically, personally and on the field is something the program emphasizes. Going forward Rhule hopes his players take this mentality into their future endeavors.
“That’s why when players come out of our program, people will want to draft them. They’re not going to be late. They’re not going to get fired. They’re going to be pros,” Rhule said. “And the guys that don’t play NFL and go off working whatever field they do, I want them to get there early and stay there late. I want them to lead by example.”