“They've got to start making more plays, they've got to start leading and they have to be the catalyst for us to go where we want to go,” Fitzgerald said after the bowl game.
During the tail-end of the Wildcats’ 2010 season, the team lacked an identity after losing Dan Persa to a season-ending injury. More specifically, they were lacking leadership. Without Persa in the huddle, the Northwestern offense was lacking on-field leadership. Their quarterback and unquestioned team leader was on the sidelines, and it was evident that the Wildcats needed more leadership. That’s where fellow junior co-captain Al Netter decided it was his time to step up.
“There was a lot more weight on my shoulders to lead the guys,” Netter said “When you’re in the huddle, they’re going to look to you to direct them and give encouragement.”
Now a senior, the 6’6, 310-lb offensive tackle has started in each of his 39 career games. Throughout his career, Netter has looked up to team leaders like Corey Wootton and Corbin Bryant. The soft-spoken Netter has admired the leadership styles of his predecessors, but his call to lead came early, and he wasn’t prepared. It was time for Netter to make some changes.
“Last year, I was a co-captain, and I went through a large learning period,” Netter said. “It was really my first time being in that type of a leadership role. I had to step out of my comfort zone, but I think it’s gotten a lot better.”
During the offseason, Netter devoted extra time to being a leader. Pat Fitzgerald gave Netter some reading material on leadership, including books by Mike Krzyzewski on leadership. In addition, Netter’s father sent magazine articles and business books on how to lead.
When spring practice came around, Al Netter became a totally different player. His jovial personality didn’t change at all, but on the field, the soft-spoken Netter became a vocal leader for his teammates. His teammates have taken notice.
“He’s gotten more vocal since I’ve been around, definitely,” said NU junior offensive guard Brian Mulroe. “I’m only a year younger than Al. When he was younger, I still looked at him as a leader, but he has gotten more vocal.”
With three season’s experience under his belt, the now-animated Al Netter has transformed into what his predecessors were—a team leader. With that role, he is the first player to encourage or call out a teammate.
“He knows what it takes to be out there,” Mulroe said of Netter. “He’s always bringing guys along. He’s cracking guys if they’re screwing up.”
Throughout his three years with the Wildcats, Netter has taken on a leadership role, but it has never been close to his new role. His role was a “lead by example” role, but nothing more than that.
Growing up, the Santa Rose, California native has always been a quiet person. When Netter arrived at Northwestern, he was immediately called upon to be a starter on the offensive line. As time passed, Netter’s teammates began to look at him for guidance. That’s where Netter had to make some personality changes—the first step of developing into his leadership role.
“I had to step out of my comfort zone,” he said. “I used to lead by example and keep to myself and try to do the right thing. As you know, leadership takes more than staying within yourself. You’ve got to be vocal and speak up so other guys know what to do.”