Why Cade McNamara has emerged as a cohesive leader for Michigan football

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Something has long been missing from Michigan football in recent years and it’s something that’s come to the forefront: team-led leadership.

After the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day in 2020, cornerback Ambry Thomas lamented the lack of leadership from the players. The team brought in a Navy SEAL during the offseason to help mentor the players on becoming better leaders. But it hadn’t seemed to have taken hold during the actual 2020 season when the Wolverines seemed lost and rudderless throughout the shortened pandemic year.

Fast forward to this year, and with a new starting quarterback in Cade McNamara, change has appeared on the horizon. While Michigan has had intermittent quarterback play since Jim Harbaugh arrived, what it hasn’t had has been a signal caller-as-leader. Though Jake Rudock, Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Brandon Peters, Shea Patterson, and Joe Milton all had their moments of solid play on the field, none of the above were necessarily the one that the team would look up to. A lot of those who were staunch field generals tended to be those in the captaincy or elsewhere — from Jake Butt to Devin Bush to Ben Bredeson, etc. But with the quarterback position being the most important on the field, it’s crucial that the Wolverines produce not only a player who can make plays but someone that the other players believe in intrinsically.

“Cade’s leadership – since I’ve been here, I haven’t seen a quarterback really take charge like he has,” fourth-year left tackle Ryan Hayes said. “He’s really trying to lead, he’s really putting that effort in, he’s not afraid to tell you when you need something or he wants something from you. So it’s been nice to have – nice change.”

You can see McNamara’s leadership skills on display in a Twitter video posted by the official Michigan football account on Aug. 19, when he talked about the privilege of playing in The Big House.

That’s an important message, particularly because the Wolverines lost all three games in Michigan Stadium a year ago — though it wasn’t quite the normal homefield advantage, given the lack of fans. But his message should be prescient in that it is the home turf and hallowed ground in college football.

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So why has McNamara been such a beneficial leader? What has Hayes seen from him in that role? Really, McNamara has naturally stepped up and in, coalescing the entire offense, which is something that Hayes hadn’t seen in his previous three years in Ann Arbor. Not to mention, he’s not afraid to speak up and tell other players what is needed of them while encouraging them all the same.

“At certain times in the past years, people haven’t been doing what they need, practices haven’t (gone) how they want,” Hayes said. “Nobody’s really stepped into that role to get everyone together. Different (position) groups have, but he really tries to get the offense together as a unit.”

We’ll see how adept McNamara is in that role in less than two weeks

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when Michigan hosts Western Michigan for the 2021 season opener in Ann Arbor.