Feb. 4, 2010
By: Laura Rasmussen
Media Relations Assistant
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.-- It's not the title that is respected, it's the traits. The characteristics of a captain come before the christening of one.
When head coach Ray Birmingham and the Lobo baseball team chose their captains for the 2010 season, they elected a trio of players who have possessed the qualities of captainship throughout their playing careers. Seniors Adam Courcha and Max Willett and junior Rafael Neda comprise this season's captains.
The trio have precedence and seniority, no doubt, but they also display and influence leadership.
"They know what to expect," Birmingham said. "They take care of business. When you become a Lobo baseball captain, it is a big deal. I make it a big deal."
Indeed the role is not all glamour and glitz, it's more about grittiness and guts. After all when Birmingham charges his players with something, he means business. Still, the three function as leaders in their own regard, knowing what needs to be done before a word is ever uttered.
"What we have tried to do is build a culture where a lot of things aren't even said, they are expected," Birmingham said.
"Everything we do represents this team whether it is on the field or off the field," Willett said. "We are all blue-collar out here. We are not out here for glamour. We are not out here for the credit. We know to just get out there and get the job done, represent this team, this university, this community in everything we do."
Willett enters his fifth year on the team after receiving a medical hardship in what would have been his junior season after suffering a broken hand just 12 games into the 2008 season. He rebounded easily, starting 55 of 57 games last season and picking up All-Mountain West Conference Second Team honors.
The Highlands Ranch, Colo. product outshone his previous two full seasons, amassing 46 RBI and four home runs, more than his freshman and sophomore years combined. He finished with a .355 batting average and sports a perfect fielding percentage in his career, not committing an error in 116 total games.
Furthermore, he has landed on the All-MWC Academic team each season and is highly active in the UNM community. Just this fall he assisted in raising over $2,000 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation as part of a Business class project.
"He typifies our program," Birmingham said of his starting centerfielder. "He is a winner. He is a great baseball player. He is a great student. And he is a good person. All those things are important in college athletics. He is grounded in who he is. He is grounded in his faith. He is a die-hard Cherry and Silver-bleeding Lobo."
Willett said he can be asked by anyone for advice about anything and be able to provide an answer.
"I just try to be personable and to relate my teammate's situations. Injured or non-injured, I have been there."
Joining Willett as a senior captain is infielder Adam Courcha, who has epitomized the utility role during his first three seasons. The native of Perth, Australia has played outfield and catcher, and has been dubbed as this season's starting third baseman. In 2008, he manned center field after Willett's injury, starting 45 games and finishing with a .326 average. He followed up with a .313 average in 40 games in 2009.
"We're a team, a family, a brotherhood, even a fraternity," Courcha said. "We're here for one another. We emphasize the `us,' the `we,' the team, and it is showing. We have come together and put up good numbers, good wins, and I think it is because we are here for one another. There are no individuals on this team."
Birmingham knows Courcha understands the importance of sending the right message and being accountable. The Lobo skipper pulled Courcha from a game during the middle of an inning for dropping a fly ball on a previous play. Birmingham said Courcha responded like a leader.
Rounding out the captain corps is All-America candidate Rafael Neda. Despite Neda's honors, awards, accolades, and preseason and postseason recognitions, Birmingham notes that the catcher does not hold himself in any higher regard than the rest of his teammates.
Neda has appeared in 105 games as a Lobo, starting all but two at either the catcher or designated hitter position. He carried a .415 batting clip last season, which was 32nd nationally. He picked up MWC Freshman of the Year honors and was named Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 2008 in addition to collection All-MWC First Team honors in both seasons.
"Every year you have new players and teammates, you try to get to know them and get along with them to build confidence in the team," Neda said. "As long as you have that confidence, you are going to do better in the field. As a catcher, always being behind the plate looking at the field in front of me, having that confidence in those players, I think I have been doing a good job of that."
Neda and Birmingham both agree that the catcher has developed as a player and a person in his two short years as a Lobo baseball player. Neda noted he didn't really participate in the community until he came to the Lobos and now it is one of the things he enjoys most.
"He is very humble in the way he does things, and he is very good," Birmingham said. "As a freshman, he played the last month of the season with a broken thumb and never ever complained. He has never walked around like he is the most special player on the team. He is very humble in the way he does things."
Courcha, Neda and Willett have started 351 games between the three of them while the remaining five projected starting position players have 209 starts between them. Moreover, the three understand the importance of being responsible.
"You have a responsibility to yourself, your teammates and your coaches. And you have a responsibility to your community," Birmingham said. "The season is always a work in progress, but the whole drive of this team has changed for the better."
And it's the characteristics of reliable captains that spark the fuel for that drive.
The Lobos start the season on the road at preseason No. 1 Texas in Austin. For more information visit www.GoLobos.com.