Simply telling the players how to lead wouldn’t be enough. Darrell Funk’s duty was to inspire organic confidence, an idea planted and prepared to sprout yet still originating within oneself.

He passed out binders full of examples of leaders both good and bad. Then he started the conversation, but it would have to be the juniors on the Michigan football team who finished it. Funk wouldn’t call out anyone who didn’t feel the need to speak up.

Funk posed questions: Can a leader still be a leader, even though he may not play as much? What happens if a freshman doesn’t want to get on board?

How do you handle those situations?

“Surprisingly, everybody spoke,” said redshirt junior linebacker Kenny Demens.

Jordan Kovacs spoke. Ricky Barnum spoke. Roy Roundtree. J.T. Floyd. Quiet guys spoke. Walk-ons did, too.

“Guys who you just never thought would have that sense of, ‘I can lead, or I know what it takes,’ ” Demens continued. “It was an eye-opener.”

For one day a week over four weeks last spring, Funk wasn’t teaching his guards how to pull — he was molding future leaders.

Under Brady Hoke’s watch, the football program’s source of leadership shifted from the coach to the players. He told them they wouldn’t get far if he had to lead the team. And he wanted to lead with his seniors. To do this, Hoke installed leadership seminars — one for each class, each led by a different coach (offensive line coach Funk led the juniors’ workshop), to teach them how to lead and how to follow.

Leadership proved to be a strength of Hoke’s 11-2, Sugar-Bowl-winning team. If Michigan is poised to repeat that success, it’ll lie on the shoulders of a those next in line: the Kovacs’s, the Demens’s and Roundtree’s.

Though the following part, as fifth-year senior Ryan Van Bergen will tell you, is always the most undervalued and perhaps most important. After Michigan beat Illinois in November, Van Bergen was asked about the seniors’ leadership. Unsolicited, he bragged about the followers, the underclassmen who bought in. There are three levels, he explained: leaders, those who are about to lead and the followers.

When Hoke and strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman led the seniors’ leadership seminar, they asked the leaders of Team 132 what kind of leaders they wanted to be. This spring, they’ll ask next year’s seniors the same question.

“A lot of people talk about (leading), but don’t necessarily know,” Van Bergen said.

Hoke will leave no gray area.

“Sacrifice, dedication, commitment,” Van Bergen said, rattling off what he took away from the meetings. “Things that you think go unseen are seen by the younger guys, regardless of if you think they are or not.

“It’s just making sure everyone knows how relevant they are, no matter what their position may be.”

Last year, each senior received a 40 to 50 page handbook, which also included examples of leadership. One story stuck with Van Bergen, about how a CEO reduced his salary to $1 during hard times. That was the gist of all the stories: the sacrifice it took to lead.

“People don’t realize the sacrifice involved — it’s huge,” Van Bergen said. “You have to take time out of your day to improve yourself. Then you have to take time out of your day to be with your teammates. Then you have to take time out of your day to improve the guys around you.”

What the seniors did was a full-time job and is much publicized: organizing consistent summer workouts, taking the time to watch film with younger players. Their effort spread like a common cold. When the followers saw Van Bergen and Martin running to the ball, they did too.

Lead by example or through your words — it didn’t matter to Hoke — so long as it wasn’t “some guy that’s not doing what he preaches himself,” as Kovacs put it. Each senior has their own style.

“(Van Bergen is) good with words,” Demens said. “And when Mike Martin speaks, it’s from the soul. They all have their own way of expressing their leadership.

“(Kevin) Koger is the Hypeman. We rely on him to get us hyped pre-game. … And when (Dave) Molk speaks, you know it’s important. He doesn’t speak too often, but when he does, it’s emotional.”

As the season progressed, and each one let their presence become known, the seniors raved how the freshmen were no longer freshman, but the juniors were no longer juniors, either. Kovacs shed his quiet personality and started talking more.

One saying from the seminar stuck with him: “Let your actions speak so loudly that they can hardly hear you speak.”

Van Bergen said a few big stops against Western Michigan in the season opener made the freshman into Kovacs-believers.

Speaking up isn’t natural for Demens, who was implored by Hoke to become a better leader at middle linebacker. It’s his job to make checks and calls.

“When we’re on the field and things aren’t going good, I need to be the leader,” Demens said. “I need to be like, ‘Hey guys, let’s do better, let’s hit harder, let’s be technique sound.’ ”

Hoke once told him: “It’s our job to coach, but it’s your job to take the team and roll with it.”

By the end of the season it was common to see Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd address poor cornerback play in practice. Hey guys, let’s pick it up. Hold on, real quick, let’s huddle up.

The leaders before them said the same things. But the losing culture quieted their voices, softened their stance.

This season, “hearing those words they had to say, I could tell they really meant it,” Demens said. “I feel like I have to fill big shoes.”

“Denard’s always been a great leader of this team,” Kovacs added. “Then you’ve got guys like Craig Roh, J.T. Floyd, Roy Roundtree, those guys really stepped up in those meetings, and they’ve really stepped up for us this year.”

Soon, Van Bergen, Martin, Molk, Koger and Woolfolk will be gone.

Kovacs, Demens, Floyd, Robinson and Roundtree will meet with Hoke and study their own senior handbooks.

Hoke is right: Team 133 won’t go very far if he’s the one that has to lead it.

—Rohan can be reached at trohan@umich.edu or on Twitter @TimRohan.

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