The return of offensive linemen Zach Duffy and Brandon Short for a fifth year will make for an interesting transition of leadership in the 2017 football season.
It’s not rare to have another year of eligibility in college sports, although it will be the first time Lehigh football will be returning multiple players for a fifth year. Not only that, but both were vital to the team as captains this past season.
Traditionally, after each season, the rising senior class assumes the responsibility of leading the next year’s group, so the team’s identity lies with the discretion of those at the top.
In the case of Duffy and Short, who are also roommates, their combined leadership is what helped take the Mountain Hawks to a Patriot League Championship in 2016.
“(Duffy) is the voice of the team,” Short said. “He bounces ideas off of me when we’re at home, and we discuss how we want to approach different situations. It’s a dynamic of me leading by example and him being the vocal guy.”
Duffy and Short have had the opportunity to watch the team grow each season, doing their part to change the team culture following Lehigh’s 3-8 performance in 2014. Now, the challenge is continuing this run under new leadership.
“Our team was last year, that was my senior class,” Duffy said. “Our biggest thing, especially early on in the spring, was taking a step back and letting those rising seniors fill in some leadership roles.”
However, the team’s championship season complicates that transition. For the younger players, it can be hard to move on when those key voices are still being heard. It takes a collective effort by everyone, at every level of leadership, because whatever example gets set at the top just trickles down.
“They look at me as one of those guys that can bridge the gap between their class and my class,” rising senior Drew Paulsen said.
Paulsen, along with other upcoming leaders such as sophomore quarterback Brad Mayes, will have to find a balance between building off what the previous senior class has done and settling into his own way of doing things.
Getting the younger or less vocal guys on board is important. Captain or otherwise, everyone has their own unique way of adding value to the team.
“That’s the biggest thing, everybody just finding their role,” Duffy said. “Finding that team identity is what we’ve been working on.”
As fifth-year seniors, Duffy and Short have to shift their own mindsets too, both as players and students. Duffy plans to take on the workload of a 10-month business management program while continuing to play his last year of football, a commitment which he describes as a full-time job.
The rigorous pairing of football and graduate study are other possible reasons for Duffy and Short to take a step back from their leading-intensive roles on the field.
Regardless of whoever gets voted team captains next fall, the goal is still not letting the fate of the entire team rest solely on those few individuals, particularly in a team-oriented sport like football. That humility and trust among the whole group is exactly what led the team to a championship last season.
“That’s one thing that this next upcoming group has go in with,” Short said, “getting on the same page and everybody having each other’s back.”