Shawn Marsh stood before his team of Central Warriors and welcomed them to a new football season.

The veteran coach went over basic practice instructions and expectations of being part of Central's team.

Players nodded unblinkingly, both young and older, their eyes beaming with the enthusiasm that comes with anticipation of the new season.

Under the hot afternoon sun, there's an unmistakable simmering excitement on the first day of practice.

As part of those expectations, Marsh then bellowed the core values for the team.

"Does anyone remember our core values from last year?" he shouted. One by one, he ticked them off, pointing to a part of his body for a visual cue.

"Mental and physical toughness … effort, commitment, it takes heart to be committed, … discipline, it takes guts to be disciplined … and integrity."

Then the team, led by Marsh, in unison, repeated the core values: "Toughness, effort, commitment, discipline, courage, integrity."

Football is a tough sport that requires hard-nosed, committed players focused on discipline. Team success requires strong leadership.

As each head coach at Central, Palisade, Grand Junction and Fruita Monument was asked about the importance of leadership in football, they immediately responded with emphatic answers.

"Well, it's a mandatory," Marsh said. "They have to know what leading is, leading is not a rah-rah guy. Leading is leading by example. There's so many facets of leading that it's difficult and it's not for everyone.

"Without leadership you're floating around out there without direction."

Ramunno offered a quick answer.

"Crucial, it's so crucial. Football is the one (sport) that demands it the most because you've gotta be a team guy. You've got so many spokes that rely on you and you have to deliver," he said. "Some of it's natural but a lot of it they have to develop through hard work, just being consistent and doing things right."

With 11 players per team on the field at once, the weak-link-in-the-chain concept is profound in football. If 10 guys get the job done, one missed assignment can ruin a play.

That's why on-the-field leaders are so important in the game.

"It's unique sport, there's 22 positions on the field at a time and you have to be able to get things done, and you need leaders to make that happen," Ramunno said.

A strong leader also knows how to lead a diverse group of personalities and positions without being a jerk, and coaches agree that it takes lessons to develop a strong leader.

"You have to teach them," Marsh said. "I know people think you're born a leader, but it's both, you have be taught how to lead and you have to have some ability. You have to have something that people want to follow you.

"You can earn that leading by example, by hard work, but you have to teach kids how to lead, and you can't expect them to come out and lead correctly," he added.

Leading correctly is essential, and Marsh said that's where the leadership lessons begin.

"You teach them core values and find a way in a limited amount of time to give them leadership training," he said.

With experience comes better leadership values.

At Grand Junction High School, head coach Mike Sirko is pretty chipper at  6 a.m., shouting instructions and leading practice.

At Fruita Monument, Cameron Ross is conducting his first practice as the head coach. The next morning, he's is in the weight room leading the team through a series of exercises, giving them encouragement, telling them what they need to do to be successful.

Football is the ultimate team sport and every coach makes it clear that without good leadership, the team will suffer.

Sirko, in his fourth decade of coaching in Colorado, has seen his share of leaders and great teams over the years.

He knows the importance of picking the right players to be team captains.

"There's a lot of things that determine leadership. Some kids just have it, some grow into it, some kids in their situations help them develop into that kind of role," he said.

"As a coach, when you pick people as captains, it's got to be someone who you know the other players will respect and follow."

This is the first head coaching job for Ross, but after many years as an assistant, he's seen what it takes for a player to be a strong leader.

"What you need on your team are people who the people on your team can look to, and we have a lot of people who are like that," he said.

Sometimes that leadership ability and the respect factor grows over the years. That's what Ross has witnessed with senior quarterback Zach Rush.

"One of the biggest things Zach has developed is his leadership ability. He's really taken charge this year and become the leader we need him to be at the quarterback position," Ross said.

Football success begins with strong leadership from the head coach, then it trickles down to the assistant coaches who work with the players.

Every coach agrees that a head coach can only do so much, and team captains and on-the-field leadership is what can make or break a team over a season.

The coaches also agree that leadership is like an onion, with several layers.

A good leader must be vocal, but it must be genuine to earn the respect of their teammates.

Like most football coaches, Ramunno scoffs at the rah-rah importance of being a leader.

Talking the talk never works without walking the walk.

"This is about doin'. The talk doesn't feed the Bulldog around here," he said with a big laugh.

— Jon Mitchell contributed to this story.

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