CEDAR FALLS -- In his first coaching job at Green Bay Southwest high school, University of Northern Iowa defensive line coach Bryce Paup learned an early, valuable lesson.
Paup made an assumption with the older players on his team would be the leaders.
“I expected the kids to just lead,” Paup said. “Then, one day it occurred to me, well dum-dum, if you want them to tackle and you never practice it or never teach them how to tackle and you yell at them all the time to tackle in a game because they are not doing well, how dumb are you? Because you have to practice it, got to teach it.
“So, I did a little research came up with this book and started to teach the team (leadership) and after that it just kind of morphed into a life of its own and by the time in my last year of coaching at the high school I was basically a facilitator and they ran the team. It was very successful.”
Now with the inability to get his hands on his athletes because of the suspension of spring practice because of the COVID-19 virus, Paup is teaching that lesson on the Panther defensive line.
Through email and video conference calls, Paup and his linemen have been studying the book, The Team Captain’s Leadership Manuel by Jeff Janssen.
“I’ve challenged them to become the leaders on defense,” Paup said. “I’m pushing them to get out of their comfort zone and speak up because they are leaders … they’ve done the work to become leaders. They just need the tools to take on the responsibility.
“If we can get them to move forward in that capacity they will be able to take this defense to another level.”
If there is one the Panther defensive line has it is talent and plenty of it.
Senior defensive end Elerson Smith earned all-American honors last year and was a Buck Buchannan Award finalist last year after recording 21 ½ tackles for loss and 14 sacks.
Paup feels the 6-foot-7, 240-pound Minneapolis native is continuing to scratch the surface on what he can do.
“He worked at it. He studied film. He changed his habits and his game improved because of it,” Paup said. “There are still a lot of things he can get better at.
“Using his left arm. Putting weight on … he was a little light last year. He does a good job with his hands, and he likes to do it from a distance. I challenged him about a month and a half ago that now you got to do it in a phone booth. Teams knew he was fast so they were kicking him wide so now he’s got to be able to beat them in a phone booth, too.”
UNI lost just one regular rotation guy up front, senior Seth Thomas, who started opposite of Smith. But when Thomas was hurt late, senior-to-be Brawntae Wells went from being the first sub in to a starter and finished with 8 ½ tackles for loss and 6 ½ sacks.
“He has the most upside, I think,” Paup said. “He is very deceiving (speed wise) and stronger than a bull.”
Two other young players will factor in at end, sophomores Caden Houghtelling and Devin Rice.
“Caden is Karter Schult 2.0,” Paup said. “He is a bull in a china shop. He gets mad at himself and busts his butt all the time. He is probably a little better athlete than Karter. He is motivated to be really good and those are the ingredients to be really, really good.
“The challenge to Devin is for him to know his assignments inside and out. In high school he was explosive enough to beat people on raw talent. It took time to get rid of some bad habits, but he has finally gotten to a point where the bad habits have gone away and he is starting to make good ones. He could be a very, very productive player in a back-up role this season.”
Moving inside there is some depth and talent, too.
Senior Jared Brinkman earned second team all-Valley honors last season after recording 83 tackles from his defensive tackle position, including 14 ½ for loss. In his second season since transferring from Iowa Central, Tim Butcher had flashes of super strong play and finished with 10 ½ tackles for loss.
And sophomore Khristian Boyd emerged as a valuable rotation guy late in the year, including a nine tackle performance in the FCS quarterfinals against James Madison.
“We have depth, strength and ability there,” Paup said. “Jared is a solid, hardworking kid you ever want. He does a great job with his hands, and is making progress on getting his hips loose and rolling his hips through.
“Butcher is really starting to mature. He has taken the push from us to get better and has run with it. He is one of the guys that is starting to speak up. Khristian is right there with those guys. There was one game last season he didn’t play much and he came up talked to me about it. I was very straight with him and said this is what you need to work on and to his credit he cleaned it up and at the end of the year was playing really well.”
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