Establishing A Culture Of Leadership On Utah’s Offensive Line

May 4, 2023, 1:10 PM | Updated: 1:20 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – It feels safe to say that the Utes’ offensive line has never been better, not only from a talent/depth chart standpoint, but from a character standpoint as well.

Yes, it’s easy to see they Utes have gotten bigger and more athletic in the trenches since Jim Harding took the helm in 2014. Even more impressive, however, has been the comradery and leadership the group consistently displays both on and off the field of play.

The Importance Of The OBlock’s Leadership

When talking about leadership on a football team, it’s easy to look at the star quarterback, or the unrelenting linebacker as the guys rallying the troops. To be frank, they should be and are certainly an important piece of the cog.

However, from a tactical standpoint, it does make a lot of sense to want your offensive line room full of players who demand accountability, have a sense of responsibility not only for themselves, but the people around them, and work well with others. Leadership qualities. Looking around Utah’s o-line room and there are several guys who fit that very bill in one form or another.

“A couple of kids who stand out to me are Keaton Bills and Sataoa Laumea that in years past haven’t had to say much,” Harding said. “I tease Keaton- he had this quote in one of the articles previously that he has to really work on it, because it’s not his personality. He’s gotten a lot better. The rest of the room listens to those two kids. It’s interesting from year to year how some kids who were allowed to sit in the shadows and now their time has come. It’s there for Keaton and Sataoa.”

Leadership Isn’t Always Loud

Leadership isn’t really about being the loudest in the room but figuring out how to get the most impact out of your actions and words. It’s not always about what you say, or how many times you say it, but more so how you present it and if it resonates with those around you.

For Harding, it’s about putting his players in positions to practice those impact actions and words without necessarily putting his guys in situations too far outside of their comfort zones.

“Initially with Keaton, I talked to him individually about, ‘hey, this is what the room needs,'” Harding said. “You just kind of find ways to foster that responsibility. Whether it’s at the end of practice- breaking out the group or leading the stretch- things that force him to be in that role without having the pressure of being out in front of maybe the public. You just try to find ways that force him to have to talk and I think the more he does it, the more comfortable he becomes.”

The Value Of Bringing Back High-Level Talent

Recently it was announced former offensive lineman Isaac Asiata would be returning to Utah as a graduate assistant after a stint in the NFL and a few years working in law enforcement. Asiata isn’t the only former high-level OBlock graduate to make a return either. JJ Dielman also filled the role a few years back.

“When the GA position was open, I always want to help out the guys who played here,” Harding said. “We have an offensive line alumni thread- it’s even players before I got here. I kind of just posted it on that thread- there are some things that play to that- timing by the NCAA, things like that. We had several people reach out to do it, but it worked out for Isaac. Tremendous credibility is established. This is a guy who played in the NFL, that was in their locker room doing exactly what they are being asked to do and the success he had. I’m always asking him now that he’s back about things that are different now that he’s in meetings looking at it from a coach’s perspective, what are things I can improve on now that’s he’s seeing it as a player and now a different role. It’s a huge asset to have him, not only for the players, but for myself as well.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports

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Establishing A Culture Of Leadership On Utah’s Offensive Line