As important as this spring is for continuing to learn the grow comfortable within the schemes, it is equally vital in the team's attempt to cultivate new leadership following the departure of every team captain from a season ago.
One of the players attempting to fill that void is senior inside linebacker Mohamed Barry.
“First, it’s just by my actions, not being complacent, making sure every time I practice that I’m setting an example and going hard and motivating my teammates,” Barry said. “You’ve got to be a good teammate first, then being a leader is affecting other people and getting the best out of them. Just talking to my teammates, making sure I’m motivating them and making sure I’m bringing them along.”
Barry made sure to point out that while leadership starts with setting an example, it extends beyond that as well.
“It’s not good enough to be a leader by example,” Barry said. “We learned from The Program that that’s just being a good teammate. Doing the right things and going hard, that’s just being a good teammate. If you have influence on the team, you have to bring people along.”
The Program is an outside organization that teams and businesses can bring in to focus on leadership development and team building, and Frost has had The Program on campus in Lincoln.
According to the other linebackers in that room, Barry is doing exactly what he says,
“Mo is self-explanatory for what he does,” junior inside linebacker Collin Miller said. “I have never seen someone work harder than Mohamed Barry, in the weight room, on the football field. First in, last out type of guy. He’s a big leader for us and he vocalizes wha he wants and he gets it done. He doesn’t care if what he’s saying you might not like. He knows where this place needs to be and he’s going to get it done.
“The young guys like Nick [Henrich] and Jake Archer and all these other guys that are in there, he kind of calls them in and watches film with them and tells them what Coach Ruud wants, what we want, the way that we want it. Just having him be our senior and a person you can look up to and he kind of sets the standard is unbelievable because he’s one of a kind.”
Barry has embraced bringing along the young guys, particularly Henrich, an early enrollee who should still be in high school. His leadership style does not change regardless of who he’s addressing, from the young guys to the other vets, and he earned that respect through his hard work.
“The same thing. I have to do it myself, so I can’t be a hypocrite,” Barry said. “I have to do it myself, and then when I tell them, I tell them, This is what I’m doing. You’re my equal; you should do it just like me.’ You have to have the respect for everyone in the group and that’s what I have, a profound respect for everyone in my group. So I’m going to treat them all the same and I’m going to treat them how Coach Ruud treats me.”
Barry isn’t just a leader in the inside linebackers room, however. He and the other leaders on the team have tried to take what they’ve learned and put it into action as the players left for spring break.
“We just told people, first, to be professional about what you do,” Barry said. “People who love something, even if you’re taking time away from it, you’re going to wake up in the morning and get a little workout in, and then maybe have your fun. Then when it’s time, when it’s Friday, you’re shutting it down. We had a lift on Sunday, seven-on-seven, and then we got back into it and had a great Monday practice.”
That’s what offensive coordinator Troy Walters said on Monday — there was no spring hangover, and that was player-led. Said Barry, ‘This is our team.”
“I think that’s been a big deal,” Ruud said. “I got back from spring break and I walked up to my office Sunday afternoon there was already a group of linebackers in there watching film on their own. That part’s really been good. I think if there was a difference that was more noticeable than anything else at UCF is that there was less coaching the second year; it was player-led. They knew the mistakes — first of all — they were making and they corrected themselves. A lot of times, the less coaching you see out there is for the better.”
Ruud said he was happy to see one of the players in his room step up to build that leadership void, particularly a player of Barry’s experience and ability, but he wasn’t surprised.
“It’s great to see but it’s also what’s expected now,” Ruud said. “I think if we’re doing our job, we should see that. But it’s fun to see guys blossom and continue to grow in all aspects. It’s not just playing football, playing linebacker, it’s leadership as well. I think he’s made probably his biggest improvement overall in that area.”
Barry grew into one of the team’s most indispensable defenders last season in his first year as a full-time starter and the passion with which he played the game was evident to anyone who watched him player or heard him speak. This spring, he’s learning how to channel that passion into being a leader.
“We work at that; that’s not an accident,” Ruud said. “That’s something that, when I was around, we didn’t really have that. I think that’s one of the coolest things that Coach Frost brings is we work on leadership, we had The Program here, we have a lot of powerful leaders around the country, really, talk to our guys. When you see guys pick up on that and embrace that, it’s cool.”
We’re still several months off from team captains being named, but the odds seem to be pretty heavily in favor of Mohamed Barry being one of them whenever that time arrives.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.