Growth of players' leadership critical for BGSU football

JUL 24, 2023 3:41 PM
BOWLING GREEN — Fifth-year seniors Darren Anders and Odieu Hiliare have seen — and been part of — positive changes during their time playing for Bowling Green State University’s football program.
Not only in the upward trend in the win column over the past couple of years, but in the impact of their leadership.
“When I got here in 2019, the whole culture, it wasn’t right. There was really no leadership on the team,” Anders said during Thursday’s Mid-American Conference media day at Fox Theatre in Detroit. “Coach [Scot] Loeffler always preaches about how great teams are player-led teams. The coaches don’t really have to say much, it’s all player led.
“My freshman year, there was none of that. Over the course of these four, five years, it’s been more and more development of that. I think now, we’re at a point where it really mostly is a player-led team. The leadership is much better, the culture has completely shifted from poor to really good.”
Anders, a force at linebacker the past four years for BGSU, and Hiliare, who made an immediate impact at wide receiver in 2022 after playing three seasons at Alabama A&M, have been among the Falcons who have embraced their expanded roles on the team. The confidence they have in their teammates stands out, as BGSU (6-7, 5-3 MAC), which had zero wins in 2020 and four in 2021, seeks another step forward this season.
“We’re a very tight-knit team now, a lot of close relationships on the team,” Anders said. “We all love each other, and you need that team chemistry, that team love to play as good as you can and to dominate this league. I think we have that.”
For Hiliare, who led BGSU in receptions (58) and yards (747) and snagged six touchdowns last season, the biggest change he has noticed since arriving to campus has been the players’ dedication to the program.
“Everybody’s more bought in. That’s just what it comes down to,” Hiliare said. “If you’re bought in, then we’re all on the same page, then we know what to expect from each other.”
With playmakers returning on both sides of the ball, Hiliare and Anders are excited about the possibilities of their respective units.
Austin Osborne, BGSU’s leading receiver in 2021, and Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim, who excelled at Alabama A&M as well before transferring to BGSU earlier this year, are part of a talented group of offensive skill players for the Falcons.
“A lot of people don’t expect us to be as good as we’re going to be this year,” Hiliare said. “... We’re very excited about what’s to come, and I can assure you that it’s going to be better than it was last year.”
Meanwhile, Anders has high expectations again for a defensive group that tied a school record with 38 sacks a year ago. Although the Falcons won’t have defensive line standout Karl Brooks, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2023 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers, Anders is looking forward to playing with who is returning.
“We have a lot of players on the team that we have faith in that are going to make plays this year,” Anders said. “For me as a leader on the team, it’s just pushing everybody on the defense to play their best and play for their brothers. When you play for your teammates and not yourself, you’ll do more, you’ll push yourself harder, and that’s when we’re going to be really great.”
With just over a month left until the season opener at Liberty on Sept. 2, BGSU is focusing on being more consistent.
The Falcons want to back up big wins – like the victory at Minnesota in 2021 or at Toledo in last year’s Battle of I-75 – with even better performances, instead of following with multiple-game losing streaks.
“We have to be consistent no matter the circumstances, the weather, the crowd, injuries, none of that. It doesn’t matter,” Anders said. “Every week we have to come out and play our best football, and I really do think that this year we’re going to do that. We’re going to put all the pieces together, and when we do that, we’re going to be a really, really good team.”
Bowling Green was picked fourth ahead of Akron and Kent State in the MAC East Division by the league’s coaches.
To exceed those expectations, the Falcons are focusing on maintaining a game-day level of intensity.
“We’ve just got to practice how we play, come to practice full of energy and that way, that carries over to the game,” Hiliare said. “If we come to the game full of energy, nobody can beat us, so I just feel like that’s just something we’re really honing in on, just having that energy. Energy’s everything in the MAC because if you don’t show up to play, you can get beat by anybody and anybody can beat anybody. That’s just something that we’re really working on.”

Players mentioned in this article

Darren Anders

Karl Brooks

A.J. Green

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