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Penn State Football: New Season, New Leaders For The Nittany Lions

by on March 25, 2014 9:00 AM

Editor’s Note: This is the 12th in a series previewing Penn State football, part of the countdown to the Blue-White Game on April 12 by StateCollege.com and Onward State. Read the previous stories here.

Leadership is an interesting dynamic in sports.

It's one of the few things that can be an underrated aspect of a team or player while simultaneously being overrated.

Good leaders on the field can impact a game in the way they approach the game but one linebacker can rarely "will his team to victory" as they say. A quarterback can make smart decisions but coverages don't break down because of his leadership skills. 

But good leadership on a team can be the difference between a good season and an outstanding one. Leading by example on and off the field can often mean more to a team than simply being a great playmaker. Sometimes leadership can be the calming presence a team needs. Any good leader leaves behind a vacuum in his wake and how that role is filed is a critical dynamic for any team.

And that holds true for Penn State as well. One does not simply fill the shoes of DaQuan Jones, Allen Robinson, and John Urschel but new leaders must step up and rise to the occasion.

James Franklin is still learning about his players, as people and as athletes, but as someone who has risen to the top of the list of young head coaches, Franklin knows good leadership when he sees it.

(Christian) Hackenberg, obviously," Franklin says when asked of growing leaders on the team. "The position kind of calls for that, but he's a quiet leader. He really is a quiet leader. On offense, if I kept going, (Miles) Dieffenbach has been another guy I've been impressed with. He's kind of gone out of his way in that role. I think it's important to him.

"The tight ends are a quiet group overall. The running backs are a quiet group overall. They're probably the two guys that stand out to me the most. On the defensive side of the ball, (Mike) Hull is a quiet leader. When he speaks, people listen. When he does open his mouth to say something, it's well thought out and it's calculated."

"Jordan Lucas never lacks for something to say. He enjoys talking and speaking his mind, and he's got a lot of personality, and he's very, very charismatic. It's not always as well thought out before he says it. It just comes out of his mouth," Franklin said laughing. "He's a great kid; love him. I think (Adrian) Amos is a quiet leader as well and has done some nice things. They're the guys that when you say that jump out to me. The guys that have gone out of their way."

That doesn't mean Penn State's leadership void is filled over night, but as the Nittany Lions head into the second week of spring practice it looks as though Penn State isn't lacking for voices to be heard. Other leaders like receiver Matt Zanellato can be seen leading drills by example and little things can lead a team through effort alone. That can make for some interesting surprises when it comes to who Franklin remembers at the end of the day.

"There is a guy I'd like to mention who I love and have been unbelievably impressed with, and that's Albert Hall," Franklin said. "He's a young man who was a tight end that we moved to offensive line and he works so hard and has such a great attitude. That guy is going to find a role on this team somehow. I've called him out in front of the team a number of times because I've been so impressed with him: his approach, his demeanor, his attitude."

As far as your approach to leadership, Franklin doesn't want to change who you are. So go out and lead however it is that you lead.

"I want people to be who they are. I want our coaches, myself, the players, I want them to stay true to who they are. I want them to work on their leadership skills. It's our job to help them develop that, and that's not just veteran players, but freshmen all the way up through the seniors. I think that's very, very important. If a guy's not a rah rah guy, to try to get him to be that, it's not going to work."

"That doesn't mean you can't work on developing those skills. It might be a guy that's going to pull them to the side and do it one on one, maybe when the coaches aren't watching or the teammates aren't watching. So I think that's important. I really like people that are comfortable in their skin and stay true to who they are, so that's what we're going to do."

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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