Some things in sports are invaluable, such as strong senior leadership on a team going through major changes -- like those taking place at Eastern Michigan.

Lincoln Hansen is a four-year starter at right tackle for the Eagles. He’s on the watch list for the Lombardi Award, which is given annually to the nation’s best lineman or linebacker. But this year, in addition to leading EMU’s offensive line, he’s also going to have to be a steadying voice on a team in transition.

New head coach Chris Creighton arrived in Ypsilanti from Drake University, a Football Championship Subdivision school where he never experienced a losing season in six years.

EMU will be his fourth college head coaching job, and he’s counting on seniors like Hansen to set the example and bridge the gap between where this program is, and where Creighton would ultimately like it to be.

“It’s their team, it’s their family, and I feel fortunate to be a part of it,” Creighton said. “I want it to be one of the most incredible experiences of their lives, and that includes the seniors. We’re not just thinking about the future and throwing up the white flag this year. We’re going to give them everything we have. I think they know that, and I think they’ve responded.”

Hansen hears his coach’s voice, and he knows that he needs to be one of the Eagles’ core players this season.

“It’s definitely easy to be hesitant at first, because this isn’t the guy that recruited you,” Hansen said. “But you can feel his energy and desire, and you know it’s what’s best for the program. It’s an honor to think that you’re one of the kids who can have the most influence to help turn things around before you head out.”

Hansen has suffered through two consecutive 2-10 seasons after the Eagles went 6-6 when he was a freshman. But it hasn’t put a damper on his outlook for 2014.

“I’m a captain,” Hansen said. “To me, leadership is one of the most important roles I have on the team because my attitude will help determine the team’s attitude. As seniors, we have to step up. We’re the guys who have to want it the most, and we do.”

Creighton is equally optimistic.

“Lincoln is one of the guys that just decided right away that he was going to do everything he could to make this a fantastic year,” Creighton said. “He has put his heart and soul into this team.”

Hansen has played in 35 games during his EMU career, starting 28. He’s the anchor of an offensive line that should be one of the Eagles’ strongest units in 2014. Like Hansen, left tackle Andrew Wylie returns after starting all 12 games last year and Jake Hurcombe started 11.

At 6-foot-6 and 299 pounds, Hansen has an opportunity to become one of the best linemen in that nation. But on a larger scale, he has the ability to help the program he loves start the process of rebuilding the right way.

“It’s an honor,” he said about being named to the Lombardi Award watch list. “It feels like a great validation of my hard work. It pushes me to focus on what I need to do to get better and help the team.”

Eastern Michigan

Last season: 2-10, 1-7 MAC

Coach: Chris Creighton, 0-0 at EMU, 139-46 overall (Ottawa, Wabash, Drake)

Notable: Detroit Catholic Central graduate Bronson Hill is the top returning offensive weapon for the Eagles. Hill ran for 1,101 yards during his junior season while being named All-MAC third team. He's also been named to the Doak Walker Award watch list, which is given to the nation's top running back. With EMU breaking in a new quarterback, Hill is going to have to be a force early in the season if the Eagles hope to get off to a good start.