In the FCS Huddle: There's more to teams than the superstar
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director/Senior Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Southern Utah senior Cody Larsen is a two- time all-league first-team selection, a team captain, an extremely strong player and one of the most talented defensive tackles in the FCS.
He's the defensive player whom Utah State's offensive players have to be most concerned about Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.
Yet many Utah State fans have probably paid little attention to Larsen.
The name they know is Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen.
It's a dynamic that develops when a team has a highly skilled player like Sorensen, a Walter Payton Award candidate who is expected to be one of the FCS' top NFL Draft choices next April, or, say, New Hampshire linebacker Matt Evans, who's chasing a second straight Buck Buchanan Award as a senior.
Everybody within the program knows how there's much more talent on the roster than the superstar player. Most outside the program, on the other hand, tend to put their focus only on the one player.
It's Sorensen and Co. or Evans and his sidekicks.
"It's just one of those things that comes with the territory," said quarterback Casey Brockman, a two-time Payton Award nominee for a talented Murray State squad - though some may not have noticed the other Racers' players.
Teammates of the star player have little choice but to accept the outside perception of the team. Still, it's important for a player like Brockman not to take himself too seriously, and that others on the squad not let him do so.
Brockman's teammates have nicknamed him "Walter Payton" to try to keep him humble. He can only chuckle over their good-natured ribbing.
"It really comes down to the individual," said Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers, whose team has a standout running back in junior Zach Bauman. "Zach handles it very well. He's one of the team leaders, he's on the team counsel and he doesn't act like he has any entitlement, he doesn't act like he has any preferential treatment. He's one of the hardest-working guys on our team."
The players who overshadow others to people outside the program tend to be the veterans. Towson running back Terrance West led the FCS with 29 touchdowns and won the inaugural Jerry Rice Award last season, but he was just a freshman, so the upperclassmen still drew plenty of attention on the CAA Football champions.
This year, the likes of Indiana State running back Shakir Bell, Wofford fullback Eric Breitenstein, Elon wide receiver Aaron Mellette and Georgia Southern nose tackle Brent Russell - all seniors - also are overshadowing teammates even though many of them are a big part of their team's success.
At Southern Utah, which has moved from the Great West Conference to the stronger Big Sky Conference, the Thunderbirds have premier players in Larsen, offensive linemen Zach Brackus and Gavin Farr, and linebacker Chad Hensen. Yet if you ask FCS fans, or those at Utah State, they tend to only know Sorensen's resume.
"For a team that works really hard together and becomes committed to each other, I think when a guy like Brad, who is as humble as he is and works as hard as he does, when he gets attention, I think that all of our players feel like they share in that attention, they feel like they're helping him earn that attention, and they're excited for him," Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb said.
At New Hampshire, most people outside the program would be surprised to learn safety Chris Beranger had 142 tackles last season - the fifth-highest total in the FCS.
It may have been easy to overlook Beranger because he plays with a certain teammate named Matt Evans, who finished second nationally with 165 tackles and was on everyone's mind.
"He runs around, makes great plays and happens to have a lot of tackles, interceptions and he pads up his stats," New Hampshire linebacker Alan Buzbee said. "But there's other guys on the field who help him make those plays from the D-line to the back-end. So he makes a lot of plays, but it's definitely a team effort
"How he has handled winning FCS defensive player of the year, you would never know (it). Any type of attention that is directed at him about anything like that, he deflects it away. He always gives credit to other people and you would never know that he is the type of player he is, which makes it even more special."