Leadership roles suit Alabama's Bryce Young and Will Anderson, but await others| Goodbread
Among the more commonly repeated Nick Saban quotes, also oft-attributed to late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, one lays bare the difficulty of motivating others: "If you want to make everyone happy, don't be a leader; sell ice cream."
Preseason football practice gets underway at Alabama this week, and as the next few weeks pass, leadership on the team will take shape, just as lineups, depth and personnel packages do.
Two people we know won't be selling any ice cream are quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson, both of whom were voted by teammates as permanent captains of the 2021 team. Their coach described their leadership skills as on par with their prolific on-field talent at SEC Media Days last month.
"These guys have not only been great players, they've contributed from a leadership standpoint probably as significantly as any leaders that we've had - and we've had some really good leaders in our program and organization," Saban said.
That puts them in a category with Dont'a Hightower, Barrett Jones, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and some of the most inspirational players to come through UA in the last 15 years.
Young and Anderson, however, can't do it alone.
Rallying a team of 100-plus athletes can be a delicate balance that takes a lot more than just speaking up when the team finds itself in a jam at halftime. It's a consistent presence needed in practice, in team meetings, and just as importantly, off the field. It's knowing what to say, when and to whom to say it, and how loudly. It's understanding when actions will work better than words. It's thinking like a coach when the coach isn't around, but without coming off to peers like a hall monitor.
Not everyone is wired for it, and it's not always endearing. Not even good leadership is always well-received on the follower's end, and popularity is a hard thing for anyone, especially young adults in a locker room setting, to sacrifice for something bigger.
That's why leaders can be hard to find, and at the same time, that's why two isn't enough.
Not in football, anyway. Two might suffice in basketball on a roster of 13. By contrast, football scatters 85 scholarship players in a way that two voices can't always reach. There are others on this Alabama team, but whether there are enough won't be revealed for some time.
Defensive lineman D.J. Dale emerged into a leadership role during the offseason workout program. Defensive back Brian Branch is reputed as one of the team's most dedicated when it comes to the offseason, as well.
It doesn't always have to come from returning veterans.
It can come from wide receiver Jermaine Burton, who transferred in from Georgia with more game experience than anyone else in the UA receiving corps. It can come from younger players, too – just ask Anderson, who began feeling comfortable in his leadership shoes after a 31-29 road win over Florida, just three games into his second year at Alabama.
He and Young give the Crimson Tide as much of a 1-2 punch as any team could hope for, be it on the field or in the locker room. But it will take more than two.
Handing out ice cream is easy in August.
Leadership is a harder sell.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread