This feature story can also be found in the Sept. 9 edition of the A-State Football Digital Game program.
For Arkansas State senior linebacker Melique Straker, leadership starts early.
“How early?”, you may ask. Straker rises well before the sun breaks over the Northeast Arkansas horizon – at 4:30 a.m.
For a student-athlete with as packed a day as Straker’s, it provides him an opportunity to take ownership of his day at the very beginning. It’s a trait that he learned from his parents, as well as Robin Sharma’s bestselling book The 5AM Club: Own Your Morning, Elevate Your Life, given to him from his father.
“I read that book, and thought to myself, ‘Everyone is waking up at 5 a.m. if they are reading this book, so I’m going to wake up at 4:30,'” Straker said. “It’s difficult sometimes during the season, because I have to make sure I’m getting adequate sleep. I try to do it, though, because it gives me an opportunity to clear my space in the morning to have downtime to think, write, and read. I have such a packed and scheduled day through classes, practice, study hall and other things throughout the day, so it gives me an opportunity in the morning to be at rest.”
It’s through that morning stillness that he sharpens his mind to combat adversity that any day may present.
“I have to make sure I keep my mind sharp and strong,” Straker added. “I always have to focus on keeping the main thing the main thing. It’s always easier said than done, but it’s a constant practice. You have to practice your discipline. You have to practice your focus so that you’re focusing on the right things through adversity. Every single day is a practice, so that when adversity does strike, you’re prepared.”
That preparation led not only to him being a coveted player in Canada prior to his brief stint at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, but also proved useful in a tough road environment such as the one he faced in one of his first career appearances on Sept. 18, 2021, at Washington. On that cool, rainy afternoon in Seattle, his confidence grew from knowing the trust his coaches placed in the young linebacker who came to Jonesboro just a month prior.
Straker noted that being trusted early in his career by the A-State staff gave him confidence that grew into him becoming a relentless leader on the defensive side of the ball – much like his favorite player growing up, former Pittsburgh Steelers all-pro defensive back Troy Polamalu, was for the Steel Curtain in the 2010s.
Much like the origins of his early-rising routine, his love for the game of football (and the Pittsburgh Steelers) came from his family. He grew up watching football from an early age and noticed the passion his parents had for the game, which led to him beginning his youth football career at six years old. Football served as a conduit for future connections that ultimately led to Straker being noticed by Head Coach Butch Jones and staff ahead of the 2021 campaign.
After competing at Carleton in 2019, the Ravens’ 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, presenting another obstacle-turned-opportunity for Straker. A close relationship with fellow Brampton, Ontario, native John Metchie III, an all-conference wideout at The University of Alabama at the time, led to a connection with Jones. The rest, they say, is history.
Fast-forward two years later, Straker is one of the leaders of the defensive unit from the linebacker spot, and acknowledged that leadership begins early and is a daily process. Growing up, teachers noted his leadership ability and that he was a great influence for others to follow. As he’s progressed in life, Straker acknowledges the difficulty in learning to be an effective leader.
“I’ve learned that you have to learn to lead in the right ways, and everyone needs to be led a little bit differently,” he said. “I have a tremendous leader in (Coach Jones), and I watch him and study him every single day. I write down some of his mannerisms, the things he says, how he does things and how he operates. He’s teaching me how to be a leader in the correct ways, and it’s uncomfortable at times. It’s easy to talk about it, but when you’re going through it, it’s hard. I embrace that and I want to continue to learn how to lead the right way.”
Feature Story: Early to Rise. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council