Zips benefit from sports psychologist

“Excitement and expectations surrounding the Zips’ football team were at a program-high at the start of the 2006 season. After a thrilling 24-21 come-from-behind victory at North Carolina State in the second week of the season, Akron went 4-6 the remainder of the season, which ended with the Zips being shut out in the season finale against Western Michigan, 17-0 at the Rubber Bowl.”

Excitement and expectations surrounding the Zips’ football team were at a program-high at the start of the 2006 season.

After a thrilling 24-21 come-from-behind victory at North Carolina State in the second week of the season, Akron went 4-6 the remainder of the season, which ended with the Zips being shut out in the season finale against Western Michigan, 17-0 at the Rubber Bowl.

University of Akron players and coaches were left disappointed and wondering what went wrong.

Head coach J.D. Brookhart said numerous times last winter and spring that a lack of consistent leadership was a factor in the team’s struggles.

I think the consistency with the leadership council was not as good last year and that is on me, Brookhart said.

Along with accepting blame, Brookhart set out to turn one of the team’s weaknesses in 2006 to one of the team’s strengths in 2007.

Last spring, the coaching staff invited renowned sports psychologist Joseph Carr for a two-week stay to work with the Zips on improving their team-building and leadership skills.

Carr’s message was poignant and had a lasting impact on the team, Brookhart said.

He brought out a lot of things that were painful to hear as a coach and player, but things that needed to be said and brought out in the open, he said.

The Zips’ fourth-year head coach also recommitted himself to strengthening his bond with his leadership council. This year’s leadership council is comprised mostly of seniors.

Zips senior starting defensive lineman Jared Cecchetti, a member of the leadership council, said that the player representatives discuss aspects of the team that aren’t typically visible to coaches.

We go up there and give Coach a lot of insight on what’s going on behind the scenes – what Coach can’t see, what’s going on in the locker room and all that, Cecchetti said. It’s great that we’re doing that, because it brings the team closer together.

Brookhart has already seen benefits from the meetings with the leadership council coming into this season.

They have already made some good suggestions, he said. I feel I have a better pulse on the team because of that.

Two seniors, wide receiver Jabari Arthur and cornerback Reggie Corner, have noticed others joining them in embracing leadership roles with the team as well.

There have been several players who last year would not have said a word that are being vocal leaders now, Corner said. There is a lot of senior leadership. This team is ready to move forward.

A lot more people are showing more desire to win, Arthur said. What we’re trying to do is help the younger guys along, because a lot of the young guys have to step up and perform.

Corner, Arthur and other seniors, like defensive rover John Mackey and linebacker Brion Stokes, are determined to learn from last year’s disappointments and return the Zips to the top of the Mid-American Conference.

Last year, we might have lost a little focus, Arthur said. This year, we came into camp with a brand new focus, brand new energy.

We only have one goal and that is to get back and to win the championship.

Corner said that the team played better than its 5-7 record indicated in 2006, but that the team’s sub-par record has motivated the Zips to work even harder coming into the start of 2007.

We know what it takes to get to the championship and we know what to do to avoid the same thing happening to us this year as last, Corner said. We have worked hard this past spring and summer, and feel we are up to the challenge of getting back to the top of the conference.

This year’s senior class has put its stamp on the team and its leadership has not only impacted the 2007 Zips, but hopefully the future success of the program, Brookhart said.

The seniors see this as their team, he said. They have taken a ton of ownership in this.

That will trickle down and the juniors next year will hopefully step up when they are seniors and on down the line.