Leadership is a quality shared among all great point guards, keepers, setters, and quarterbacks.
But a nose tackle, a safety and a fullback aren’t expected to be great leaders.
It’s clear there is no formula for said leader as the USC Trojan football team voted Christian Tupou, T.J. McDonald and Rhett Ellison, along with quarterback Matt Barkley, as team captains for the 2011 season.
“I kind of saw it coming but it’s an honor nonetheless,” Barkley said. “[I’m] proud to lead these guys into battle and I know I have their respect and they know I’ll play for them and not for me.”
Barkley is the consummate “QB1.” He’s sharp. He does what’s asked of him despite a schedule that would make a business executive wide-eyed. Sure his arm and knowledge of the game are much of the reason he’s slated to be the second quarterback taken in next year’s draft (if he chooses to go) but his ability to lead is his ‘X’ factor.
Among the four captains, only Barkley is the predictable choice, leading as the quarterback often does. However the remaining three bring unique traits as captains that explain why teammates felt they too deserved the honor.
If the football team were a tribe, Christian Tupou would appropriately be named chief. Not only does his controlled saunter and long black mane fit this stereotype, but his voice to the defense is deep and steady, like a tribal call, resonating of passion. When he speaks, Tupou is rarely taken lightly by his peers.
“What you see now with Christian is his leadership develop while he was hurt, he actually kind of came out of his shell. It was great to watch that grow,” strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus said.
Tupou essentially became captain before day one of fall camp. Despite low confidence coming into camp, Tupou regained strength through advising others. After knee surgery in the offseason Tupou wasn’t sure he could be as athletic as his old self. But instead of pouting, he trained. The Sacramento native was seen in USC’s weight room seven days after surgery working on his upper body, doing whatever he could while recovering.
“He never complains. You never hear a negative word out of his mouth. Everyone knew he was going to be voted captain,” fellow captain T.J. McDonald said.
Rhett Ellison is your prototypical lead-by-example type. He won’t shout much, but he plays loud enough to be heard. He’s reminiscent of a pocketknife in that he will be any guy you need him to be, adjusting to unforeseen scenarios and making plays when able. He is a coach’s dream.
“Rhett has took me under his wing you could say [like] doing the extra things after practice catching balls [and] working on our technique on the sled,” freshman fullback Soma Vainuku said.
Ellison mastered the tight end position in his five years at USC and looked to have a great year on the line when Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin saw a gaping hole at fullback. So Kiffin tested the St. Francis (Portola Valley, Calif.) product in the backfield and Ellison’s progression has been remarkable. Transitioning into a new offensive role in a matter of weeks when it would take most months, has impressed both coaches and teammates alike.
"It's awesome [to be named captain]. I'm just excited the team put me in that position,” Ellison told USCTrojans.com.
Lastly, T.J. McDonald is your overall good guy. He’s the guy the others look up to because he does nearly everything the right way. The way he approaches the media, the time laboriously spent in the weight room, the dedication that comes with being a student-athlete, the lack of distractions in his life. He’s a captain because his path is the one his teammates want to follow.
“He’s a guy who wants to bring USC football back to the top,” Vainuku said. “A guy who won’t let you settle for being good but will push you to be great.”
McDonald doesn’t just lead the defense, he represents it.
“To tell you the truth all I do is work hard,” McDonald said. “Last year we had some tough times during the season, but I thought we got better every game. I never let one time or one game get the best of me.”
So those are the Trojans’ four captains for the 2011 season. Stylistically, they don’t lead similarly. Physically, they look nothing alike. They all play different positions and they all have different backgrounds that got them to this point.
But these captains do in fact share something. They are all linked by a burning desire to win.
“All of them share a common goal of taking leadership amongst the team, and doing everything the Trojan Way,” safety Marshall Jones said.