Crunch. Kirk. Hook. Ahab.

Just like those guys did, the Michigan men’s track and field team is putting its distinct stamp on the traditional role of captain.

Typically, athletic teams select their captains at the beginning of the year. But in his 14th year with the program, Michigan coach Fred LaPlante and the track and field team are switching things up by instituting a rotation of leadership.

For each meet, the coaches select two new captains to lead the team for the week preceding the competition.

“It gives the athletes more of a sense of ownership of the program and their worth in the program,” LaPlante said.

Whereas the majority of sports involve the athletes working together to win a game or match, track and field has a different dynamic. Aside from relay races, every event is completed individually, allowing for little interaction between disciplines.

“The guys in distance hang out with distance runners,” LaPlante said. “The guys who sprint tend to hang out with sprinters. The field event guys hang out with field event guys. This creates a crossover of seeing how other guys see things and getting that message across.”

Assistant coach Alex Gibby can be credited with the idea.

“In the summer, when we got our staff together, (assistant) coach (Mo) Saatara, coach Gibby and myself talked about the direction of the program and the whole concept of leadership,” LaPlante said. “It kind of spawned out of that idea. Coach Gibby brought it up and coach Saatara and I thought that was a great idea. So far, we’re really happy with how it’s all worked out.”

Although the captains are rotated throughout the season, the team will vote on a final set of captains at the end of the year. In this way, the athletes will earn their titles.

Through three meets, the Wolverines’ captains have varied in their styles.

In the first competition — the Eastern Michigan Invitational on Jan. 8 — senior sprinter David St. Amant and sophomore triple jumper Erik Braun prepared the Wolverines by ensuring that they were mentally focused. The next week, junior sprinter Robert Peddlar and redshirt junior distance runner Craig Forys boosted the intensity as Michigan took on Ohio State in The Dual.

And the following week, redshirt senior hurdler Nick McCampbell and redshirt junior multi-event athlete Taylor Voice brought the tone back down as the team looked to improve upon its marks at the unscored Simmons-Harvey Invitational.

“People have different personalities,” LaPlante said. “They all don’t do things the same way. It’s not a cookie cutter-type approach people have to have. There’s some things we may talk about with leadership, but as far as style goes, we tell people to get the message across in a way that best fits the situation.”

LaPlante said that his criteria for selecting captains each week depend on a few factors — the timing of the meet, the competition and how people work in certain situations play into the process. By the end of the season, LaPlante’s goal is that all non-freshmen will get an opportunity to be captain.

During the week, the captains’ duties include relaying the coaches’ messages, preparing the team mentally for the meet and setting a good example. For away meets, the captains will typically take roll call, do head counts and make sure everyone is in their room by curfew.

LaPlante has been so pleased with the results that he plans on continuing the system in future seasons.

“When they’ve been a captain, they have a sense of empathy for the guys in that position,” LaPlante said. “They’re more understanding of trying to listen to the leaders of the team, so when they get in that position, they want cooperation and they want you to listen to them. It’s improved the interaction among team members.”

Voice and St. Amant appreciated how the opportunity benefited themselves as captains.

“I definitely worked harder that week,” St. Amant said. “It helped in making sure I was doing everything right. The system keeps everybody on their toes and helps the entire team become leaders.”

Added Voice: “It gives guys a chance who otherwise wouldn’t be captains to really step up for a leadership role on the team. It does wonders for your confidence.”

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