CHICAGO — Nebraska's Quincy Enunwa has been carefully critiquing his leadership ability quite often lately because of a conversation in the head coach's office earlier this summer.
It was about two months ago when Bo Pelini met with Enunwa, Ciante Evans, Spencer Long and Taylor Martinez. Pelini wanted to name permanent captains before the season — something he hadn't done in five seasons at NU.
And Pelini told those four seniors they had the respect of their teammates. They were example-setters. They'd proved their commitment to the program.
The words still resonate in Enunwa's mind.
“Every step I take, I make sure I'm watching what I'm doing and doing the right thing,” Enunwa said.
That attention to detail, fueled by responsibility, appears to be the biggest benefit in Pelini's new leadership structure. Enunwa, Evans and Martinez — who accompanied Pelini at Big Ten media days — seemed to agree on that Wednesday.
During the past five seasons, Nebraska has named weekly captains before each game. At the postseason banquet, leaders from each unit were announced as the elected captains.
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That system worked during the past five years, Pelini said. But not with this year's team.
“I put a lot of thought into it this year. I talked to a lot of people,” Pelini said. “I thought this was the right time to do it with this football team.”
Pelini said he made the decision with the help of the coaching staff. There wasn't an organized player vote, though the team indirectly had a say.
The way Pelini saw it: Four players separated themselves as leaders this summer, and they deserved a seasonlong title acknowledging their dedication. And by empowering them even more, he hoped they'd have a greater influence.
No complaints so far, Pelini said.
“I think it's worked well,” he said. “I think the guys have really stepped up into that role and have really embraced it.”
They haven't really had much of a choice, Enunwa said. When the coaches ask him to do something, he said he doesn't want to let them down.
“It's definitely an honor,” said Enunwa, who caught at least one pass in every game last season. “You kind of have to take it up and run with it. That's what I've been doing.”
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Before this summer, though, Enunwa hadn't been characterized as an incredibly vocal guy. None of the captains had that distinction, really.
Martinez, a starter since 2010, was named a captain at the end of last season. He mentioned Wednesday that he's tried to take a more active role in mentoring younger players.
Long was a second-team All-American last year, but one of his goals this spring was to become more outspoken.
Evans said Wednesday that he's never been afraid to share what's on his mind, though he's more comfortable now that he has a platform to encourage, motivate and tutor.
Evans, who's started 20 career games, said his mentality has been a little different ever since he got a text message from Pelini about two months ago asking for the team's top four leaders to meet him in his office.
“We've been trying to do more since we've been announced captains,” Evans said. “It's a good thing for us, trying something different.”
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