By David Fong
TROY — It was a completely unscripted, unrehearsed and unedited moment.
It may also be the one moment in which the Troy football team went from a 2-8 team in 2015 to a 6-1 team that is headed to the playoffs this season.
“One day after camp this summer, I met with just the seniors,” Troy football coach Matt Burgbacher said. “I just wanted to go over certain things with them, what our expectations were from them and what it meant to be a senior in our program. I had three seniors who stepped up and talked to the whole group. I didn’t ask them to speak. They didn’t know I was going to have this meeting with them. I could barely even get out what I wanted to before they stepped up and started talking.
“Marc Scordia started, then Will Brumfield and Hayden Kotwica started talking. They talked about how they were sick and tired of losing. But it wasn’t just talk. They backed it up with what they wanted to do to get things turned around. I wasn’t expecting them to talk. This was going to be a one-sided conversation. They just started talking about what they wanted to see. When that happens — that’s leadership.”
This Friday, the Trojans will take on Sidney at Troy Memorial Stadium in the final home game of the season. Troy’s seniors — Parker Pfenning, Jacob Stewart, Zion Taylor, Andrew Ray, Kotwica, Brumfield, Hayata Nagata, Derrec Sandifer, Matt Sanders, Scordia, Jacob Anderson, Josh Browder, Hayden Jackson, Michael Murray, Camron Earick, Dylan Adams, Travis Hall, Zach Barnthouse, Isaac Brown and Dylan Sedam — will be honored before the game.
Burgbacher said this senior class has been instrumental in turning around Troy’s fortunes on the field.
“I’ve had eight different senior classes, and you always have different memories of each of them,” said Burgbacher, who coached for six seasons at Fort Loramie before taking the Troy job last season. “The memory I’ll have of this class was they were the leaders who got this program turned around. This has been a great group to be around. They’ve got a lot of different personalities, but the one thing I’ve noticed is they’ve always got each other’s backs.
Having thrown for 1,112 yards with three regular season games and the playoffs remaining, it’s unlikely Kotwica will match his yardage total from last season, when he set a school record 2,021 passing yards.
By nearly every other metric, however, Troy’s senior signal caller is having a better season this year than last.
Last season, he completed 145 of 284 passes, a completion percentage of 51.1 So far this season, he’s completed 70 of 117 passes, a completion percentage of 59.8. Last year he threw for 17 touchdowns, but also had 11 interceptions. This season, he’s thrown for 10 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
As a result, his overall passer rating last year was 122.8, while this season it’s currently sitting at 139.0.
He’s also improved his ability to run the ball this season. Last year, he carried the ball 132 times for 455 yards with six touchdowns and eight fumbles. With three regular season games and the playoffs remaining this year, he’s already carried the ball 102 times for 495 yards with eight touchdowns and five fumbles.
“He’s having a much better year this year than he did last year,” Burgbacher said. “He’s become a more efficient passer. One of our big goals this season was to improve our running game, which we have. You have to be able to run the ball in this conference. He’s not throwing the ball as much this year because he doesn’t have to. We are able to throw the ball when we want to throw the ball.”
Kotwica already is second in school history in career passing yards with 3,908. Trojan legend Tommy Myers threw for more than 5,000 yards in his career. Kotwica also is just the third quarterback in Troy history to throw for 1,000 or more yards in two different seasons, joining Myers and Cody May.
Little Players, Big Hits
Burgbacher admits even he cringes sometimes when he sees Matt McGillivary and Hayden Jackson take a hit.
McGillivary and Jackson — who share time at slot receiver for the Trojans — have taken some of the most brutal hits of the season, but always seem to get back up and come back for more. It seems like not a game goes by in which one or both of them isn’t absorbing some serious smacks by opposing players.
Two of Troy’s smallest receivers — McGillivary is 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, while Jackson is 5-foot-7, 150 pounds — are taking some of the biggest hits on the field every Friday night.
“Those two guys definitely take a beating out there,” Burgbacher said. “I think some of that is psychological. When you are a defender and you see someone who is smaller than everyone else, you want to lay a lick on them.”
To their credit though, the two are tougher than a $2 steak and almost always hold onto the ball, even after getting blown up by opposing defenders. Jackson is Troy’s second-leading receiver with 12 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns. McGillivary has eight catches for 114 yards and a touchdown.
“Those two guys are playing really well,” Burgbacher said. “We are getting so much production out of that position — and I’m not just talking about making catches. As slot receivers in our system, they have to do a little bit of everything. We are asking them to block outside linebackers and strong safeties. A lot of times they are going down the middle and blocking inside linebackers who may outweigh them by 60 or 70 pounds.
“These are two guys who want to play. They both know they are competing against one another and the push one another to get better every day. That competition drives both players to be better. They both always pop right back up after taking a hit.”
For the first three home games of the season, the Trojans wore silver pants with their red jerseys. Against Tippecanoe in Week 6, Troy wore red pants with red jerseys for the first time all season.
Which leaves the Trojans with a bit of a dilemma for the final home game of the season — red jerseys and silver pants or red jerseys and red pants.
“I asked the seniors what they wanted to do,” Burgbacher said. “A lot of them said there was something about wearing red-on-red that made the game feel more special. But then Will (Brumfield) said there’s something about wearing the silver pants with the red jerseys and those silver helmets. I told Will to remember one thing — I’m the one who does the laundry. I’ll probably have some say in what we wear.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong