New captain system becomes more important than ever

With defensive leader Michael Scherer sidelined for the rest of the season due to injury, Missouri will need to rely on young leaders even more.

What began as a regular Friday team meeting in early September soon turned into a surprise for Ronnell Perkins and his teammates.

Ahead of the home opener against Eastern Michigan, coach Barry Odom announced in the meeting that quarterback Drew Lock and defensive tackle Rickey Hatley, two of the most well-known players on the team, would fill two of that game’s three captain spots. The other captain was Perkins, a redshirt freshman safety who had yet to earn his first start.

The gesture was not only a testament to Perkins’ leadership but also showed the Tigers that starting status and seniority aren’t necessarily determinants of one’s ability to lead.

“That was due to [Perkins'] work ethic on the practice field, his attitude in the locker room, his attitude in the weight room and his abilities on special teams,” offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton said.

To encourage leadership from all players, Odom created a weekly captain system. The recent loss of redshirt senior Michael Scherer for the season with a torn ACL and MCL hurts the team — which has the 19th-fewest seniors in the nation. Missouri will need Odom’s captain system to supply more young leaders if the Tigers want to finish the season strong.

Odom, 39, knows well that age does not define a leader. After Odom started at Missouri in the second half of his freshman season at linebacker, Jon Hoke, a former Missouri coach, made Odom talk during every practice.

That experience not only made Odom a leader but also changed his approach on leadership skills, he said.

“You can learn and you can do things, but you have to be put in position to go do it,” Odom said.

Odom changed the captain system, which had been more standard under former coach Gary Pinkel. For the past 15 seasons, players voted on captains who then kept their slots for the entire season.

With captainship no guarantee each week under Odom, it holds players more accountable, tight end Sean Culkin said.

“I don’t think people really overthink it too much, but the guy who plays well off the field, works hard, shows progress … he should be rewarded as being a captain that week,” Culkin said. “It is cool to see guys who work so hard get rewarded for their efforts.”

A byproduct of that accountability is the increased competition among players. It also creates consistency, which Pendleton said he enjoys.

“It is not only doing the right things one day or the next day,” Pendleton said. “It is every single day.”

Finding consistency became even more difficult when Missouri lost one of their most consistent players for the season with Scherer’s injury. Scherer started for three seasons and registered 266 total tackles and 17 tackles for loss in his time at Missouri. He also typically communicated calls to the rest of the defense.

“Usually, he was that calming person we could all rely on,” freshman linebacker Cale Garrett said.

That’s where Odom’s captain system comes into play. Sixteen players have earned captainship recognition thus far, including Perkins, who went from a special teams contributor to a starting strong safety, showing leaders come in many forms.

“It is important you have guys who prepare the right way, and they may not be the ‘name’ guys,” Odom said. “But the way that they approach each week — the way they prepare, practice — those are things we point out on a daily basis that are showing great leadership.”

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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