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Jerald Foster is a third-year sophomore. He's very likely Nebraska's starting left guard this season. Important dude. It's also true, to this point, he hasn't started a college game.

If that last point would maybe stop some from getting loud with a teammate, Foster assures it would not stop him.

"If I need to say it, I'll say it," Foster said. "Being on the O-line, I feel like we've got to do that."

Mike Riley would like that quote.

The Husker head coach said before fall camp he was taking a different approach this year. He'd normally had team captains named at the beginning of each summer. That's the way he did it in his first year at Nebraska.

There's not necessarily a right or wrong answer.

But this year, Riley said he "didn't want to limit that leadership" by placing C's on the shirts of four or five or six guys so far before the season.

Sometimes when you do that, Riley has found "other guys kind of take a step back, and I just didn't want to do that."

The changed approach, several key Huskers think, has been beneficial.

Junior defensive back Joshua Kalu said it doesn't matter if you're an old guy or young guy in the Nebraska locker room, he's seen players speak up more this year with a willingness to tell a peer when he's wrong.

"I feel like with (Riley) saying that early, it's given other guys the opportunity to coach other people without feeling ashamed that I'm not the captain," Kalu said. "Being able for everybody to talk to each other without someone feeling privileged, like, 'I'm the captain so nobody can say anything to me.' So everybody is holding each other more accountable."

Junior Marcus Newby points out that when someone messes up in the linebacker room, it gets highlighted and analyzed by everyone no matter what spot they may hold on the depth chart.

Starters are not afraid to give critiques to backups, sure, but also the other way around.

Foster said it's important to be able to accept that input, even if it's someone calling you out.

"If it's from a wide receiver saying that he doesn’t see you giving effort, well, if he doesn’t see it, I know a coach like (Mike Cavanaugh) won't see it either," Foster said. "Obviously, if someone with an untrained eye sees something wrong with your game, that makes me want to work harder and clean everything up."

Sophomore defensive end Sedrick King thinks motivation from a teammate can even come from just a few words.

"Something as simple as just telling the guy next to you to pick it up is all that it takes, and I feel like anybody can do that," King said.

Certainly senior leadership still matters. This is a Husker team heavily saturated with seniors, including Tommy Armstrong, Jordan Westerkamp and Nate Gerry. All were captains a season ago.

Sophomore defensive back Aaron Williams said he turns to Gerry all the time for motivation and to ask questions. What does Gerry provide him? "Comfort," Williams answered.

On the O-line, Foster points to center Dylan Utter. He's played more college football than anybody in the room.

A young gun has to respect that.

"I think it's easy to look to him. He’s a five-year guy. He's been here, he’s seen it all. He’s done things that we haven’t, we haven’t accomplished yet," Foster said. "He's a good guy to be leading us. I feel like he's doing the role well. When we goof off, he'll start getting us back in order, things you need."

At running back, Terrell Newby is a senior who, even though he favors leading by example, is trying to take on more of a vocal role in his senior year.

"I feel like that's one of the things we talked about as a senior group, holding everybody accountable," Newby said. "And you get that across the board, not just seniors, but from freshmen all the way up, we keep each other accountable."

Riley has pointed out that leadership is not all about someone giving big speeches, but about doing the right thing and setting the right example.

In that regard, he has said he believes this team has a high supply of it.

Granted, the real test will come on some not-so-distant Saturday when the Huskers take a punch.

Who steps up then? He doesn't necessarily have to be a senior. He doesn't even have to be a captain.

"I feel like you know the opportunity when it's at hand, if you need to speak up," Foster said. "You need to do it. Don't sit back, just because you're a younger guy and let something be wrong.

"This is us growing into men, to be the guy that you want to be when you're older. You can't just see something wrong and just let it happen."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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