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Who Will Emerge as Team Leaders for Kirby Smart and the 2021 Georgia Bulldogs?

June 4, 2021

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ATHENS - Which players are intrinsically motivated enough to do what it takes to lead the Georgia Bulldogs

College football’s offseason generally produces two things – questions and hope. The questions are always numerous, the hope eternal. This might be a big week for Kirby Smart’s recruiting efforts, but of the questions facing the 2021 version of the Georgia Bulldogs, one of the most critical is which players will emerge as the team leaders. Which individual, or group of individuals, will fellow teammates look to during workouts, practice, and game situations? Before we explore who the candidates may be, let’s first look at some leadership criteria that’s required to be “that guy”. And in doing so, let’s think back to the 2017 season and the leaders from that squad. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter and Isaiah Wynn were easily the most memorable from that season. So, what made those players special? What attributes made them “that guy”?

The first criteria is that a leader must be credible. Bottom line – his audio must match his video. The words he uses to motivate, cajole, and to hold accountable fellow teammates must be matched by his production on the field. The rah rah leader, while sometimes effective, pales in comparison to the guy backs up his words with actions in the weight room, classroom, and on the field, especially when the team needs a play to be made. 

Next, a leader must be visible. Please don’t take that to mean he has to be seen running up and down the sidelines whipping the team, and crowd, into a frenzy. Rather, he is the one fellow players look to when the team needs something to be said, done, or acknowledged. The visible leader is the one who steps up to wear that mantle of leadership during a time of crisis. 

Finally, a leader must be intrinsically motivated. His drive can’t be about money or draft status. It can’t be about SportsCenter highlights. The true leader, and one that other players will emulate and follow, is the one that does what he does because his focus is on team success and the desire to be great, but not for his own good. Intrinsic motivation compels the leader to drive towards objectives that are greater than himself. 

Looking through the returning roster, several candidates come to mind to replace an Azeez Ojulari or a Richard LeCounte. Will it be JT Daniels? He seems to fit the criteria above, but I don’t know that we’ve seen enough of him to slide him demonstrably into the leader category yet. While the story of him bringing skill teammates out to sunny California for drill work certainly moves the needle toward being a team leader, I think it’s still too early to tell. Fall camp and early season success could certainly vault him into the leader status this team will definitely need. 

What about Jordan Davis? In coming back for his senior year, and what has been shown on social media, it certainly appears that he fits into the criteria above. He has been a mainstay for this Bulldog defense for 3 seasons, as he makes his presence known when he’s on the field. I would say, however, his production and ability to stay on the field needs to increase this season if he is to be counted on as a team leader. 

Finally, I think we all can see that Nakobe Dean is certainly in the running to be one of, if not the main, team leader for the 2021 Bulldogs. We’ve seen him progress rapidly to being a starter, and his production is unmatched at the LB position. We’ve seen the reports of his presence and work while injured during spring practice. Of all of the returning players, he’s easily the most credible, visible and intrinsically motivated player that will see the field this season. 

Others that are being watched include Zamir White, Kendall Milton, Jamaree Salyer, Lewis Cine, and Adam Anderson. All of these players have pieces and parts of leadership requirements. Salyer jumps out more that the others, though, as a potential player who will be counted on not only for great play, but for leadership throughout the 2021 season. So, who’s your vote for the obvious returning leader, and one who may emerge as the season progresses?

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Tags: Kirby Smart
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