Ben Malena's leadership in loaded backfield starts in weight room
Published: Thursday, September 19, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 19, 2013 21:09
Over the course of the past two seasons, the positive direction of Texas A&M’s football program has been shaped by a multitude of factors, ranging from coaching changes to the evolution of a certain Heisman-winning quarterback.
However, one element to the Aggies’ recent surge has been the development of senior leadership within the locker room, as players with veteran experience equipped themselves with the means necessary to take charge of the young squad on the field.
A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin saw potential for running back Ben Malena to take over the vacant leadership position for the offense when he arrived on campus.
One season later, Malena has matured into that role and has emerged as one of the team’s undisputed leaders.
“Leadership starts with the coaches, but real leadership starts in the locker room,” Sumlin said. “That’s where guys like Ben [Malena] tell them ‘Here’s how we win games — not just how we play the game.’”
One component of Malena’s leadership has stemmed from his selflessness in volunteering for the less-glamorous positions outside of running back, particularly on special teams.
From the kickoff team to punt return, Malena felt he could create better field position for both the offense and defense, exemplifying every coach’s dream “lead-by-example” player.
Lately Sumlin and Malena have discussed the senior acting as a more vocal leader on the team, generating energy and enthusiasm from both the sideline and on the field.
“Ben [Malena] has been a guy that has been a leader for us, even before this season,” Sumlin said. “Last year he was on all the special teams. We’ve had some discussions and talks about him becoming a vocal leader. He’s already led the team by example, now he’s a guy that people will follow based on what he’s done on the field.”
Before the season even began, Malena said he concentrated on evolving his leadership capabilities because of the importance a central team figure will play during the grind A&M will experience within the Southeastern Conference.
“That’s one of my main focuses this year — to be a leader on this team,” Malena said. “In this conference, you need to have a solid leader to have success.”
On the field, Malena has separated himself from other running backs around the country, building a reputation among the coaching staff as one of the team’s smartest players.
Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Clarence McKinney said Malena’s “football IQ” has been essential to his instinct at the position.
“[Malena] has a high IQ,” McKinney said. “He’s the one guy who has never written anything down in the film room, but he never messes up when he goes out to practice. He’s a smart football player.”
McKinney said Malena’s work with strength and conditioning coach Larry Jackson was key to his development during the offseason.
“The biggest improvement with Ben [Malena] has been his body,” McKinney said. “He’s really worked hard in the weight room to get his body prepared for all the things he’s doing for us, from special teams to offense.”
Even within his own position, which added sophomore transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson to its active roster this season, Malena’s grind-it-out attitude has set him apart from his teammates.
Malena said the group’s success on the field is dictated by his starting approach each game, especially since three talented, yet inexperienced, sophomores receive playing time after him.
“I think as a unit we work well together,” Malena said. “The one thing we have in common is our work ethic. All of us go out every day to compete and consider this a competition. With this group, I think it all starts with me.”
Malena’s dedication to team victory, rather than personal statistics, has been the quality Sumlin and the coaching staff have raved about most throughout the offseason, always noting the senior’s work ethic and passion as vital components of his overall approach to the game.
“I think what you don’t see is the amount of the emotion and passion that Ben Malena plays with,” Sumlin said. “You don’t see it from the stands but he’s talking constantly. He plays with emotion. You see that in his play. He’s a great example to both the younger and older players on this team. He’s doing whatever he can to help us win and because of that, he’s a great leader.”