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Leading the Charge

February 25, 2008
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Rell Porter is enjoying his senior season with the Flames.

Rell Porter is enjoying his senior season with the Flames.

Story first appeared in Flames Illustrated, Feb. 2-12 issue

Leadership guru Kenneth Blanchard once said, "The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority." As a senior captain of the Liberty Flames basketball team, Rell Porter is not one to raise his voice when he wants his teammates to do something. Instead, he chooses to let his actions on and off the court speak for themselves.

"Rell is a leader by example," said sophomore Kyle Ohman." He does all of the little things that are absolutely necessary for teams to win."

Winning on the court came very early to Porter in his basketball career. As a star player at his high school in Pittsburgh, Texas, Porter helped his team win over 100 games during his high school career. During the offseason, Porter found even more success on his Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team.

"We were one of the top teams in the nation every year," said Porter. "It was just a fun experience, probably one of the big times in my life."

Porter earned the honor of district MVP during his senior year at Pittsburg High, as well as a spot on the all-state team. When the time came for Porter to move on to the college level, he was not familiar with Liberty. After waiting for the call from other schools, the McDonald's All-America candidate decided to make the journey to Lynchburg, Va., and has not looked back.

Porter's role has changed dramatically since he first joined the Flames in 2004. As a freshman, he came off the bench in 26-of-28 games and started the other two. Accustomed to being a leading scorer, the native of Texas learned to adjust to his position as a sixth man. Early on, he emerged as a key defensive player, getting much-needed blocks and rebounds each game. Porter quickly learned what it took to be a leader for the Flames on and off the court, and he was named as a co-captain the following year.

"I'm a very quiet person, so I had to be more vocal," said Porter. "Being on the court, I had to do things like guard bigger people or guard quicker people. Whatever was asked of me, that's what I had to do."

Since his emergence as a team leader, Porter has only missed six starts dating back to the 2005-06 season. Last year, he finished second on the team in rebounds, averaging 5.5 per game.

This season, with new coach Ritchie McKay at the helm of the program, Porter's role has changed once again. While he is primarily known for blocking and rebounding, he is also displaying his skills behind the arc. During his final season, the 6-7 forward is currently shooting 40.5 percent from three-point range, 17.8 percent better than his career average of 22.7 percent. While he did take a lot of shots during the offseason, Porter attributes much of his success from the perimeter to his new coach.

"He (McKay) gives me freedom I've never had before while I've been at Liberty," said Porter. "In the past, I really wasn't able to showcase that I could shoot. He gives me the freedom to shoot when I want to and lets me go out there and just play."

As for McKay himself, he feels just as privileged to have the opportunity to inherit a player such as Porter who has had prior experience as a captain.

"He's just a tremendous person, a guy who is willing to do whatever it takes for the team to succeed," said McKay. "I'm very blessed in my first year to have a young man who is really as bought in as Rell."

Through his years of high school, AAU and college basketball, Porter has played against some rather tough opponents. The senior said that one of the most talented players he has ever competed against was J.R. Smith, who is now a guard for the Denver Nuggets. When playing against formidable opponents, Porter has learned that there is more to basketball than just being a skilled player.

"A lot of times, it's not even about talent. It's about experience and what you know about the game," said Porter. "You can play against someone who is way more talented than you are, but if you outsmart them, you will beat them every time."

Aside from going up against well-known players, Porter has also had the opportunity to play on one of college basketball's biggest stages, Kentucky's Rupp Arena.

"It's so exciting it can actually scare you," said Porter in reference to the prestigious basketball court. "You can feel the energy when the crowd gets going. It's a feeling I will never forget."

Over the past four years, Porter has experienced other memorable moments at Liberty, such as the victory over conference juggernaut Winthrop in 2006. Of course, in order to reap the benefits of such success, Porter has endured hours of strenuous practice along with the responsibilities that come with being a full-time college student. One thing that has gotten the Flames' iron man through tough times is his faith in God. According to Porter, Bible verses like Philippians 4:13 remind him that with Christ he can accomplish anything.

"New things come at you every year. Classes get harder and sometimes you really don't think you're going to make it," said Porter. "You look at a verse like that and it really gives you strength. If he (Christ) is behind you, nobody can really be against you."

As a business management major, Porter hopes he can one day start a business of his own. Another one of his aspirations is to coach at the college level or on the AAU circuit. Porter said his experiences as team captain have taught him how to treat certain individuals differently, depending on the situation. If Porter does get his chance to lead from the sidelines, he will certainly be able to pass this lesson on to his future players.

"He is going to be successful in his future endeavors simply because of the integrity with which he goes about his day," said McKay. "I'm glad we got a chance to be a part of his playing career."

As Porter finishes out his senior season at Liberty, he continues to be that quiet leader whose actions on and off the court do the talking. While he is not the leading scorer he was in high school, Porter can be seen at Flames basketball games diving for loose balls and setting screens that allow his teammates to score. The senior forward has realized that he may not always be the leader on the stat sheet, but he can still lead by example.
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Eric Brown is an intern in the athletics media relations office for Liberty University and serves as the sports editor for the Liberty Champion.