TROY — Matt Burgbacher stood outside the Troy football team’s locker room, his hands on his hips, a smile stretching across his face as he stared, almost glassy-eyed, into the home stands at Troy Memorial Stadium.
“Will you look at that? We didn’t have anything like this last year,” the second-year Troy football coach said Friday night following Troy’s 31-14 win over Cincinnati Northwest, which improved the Trojans to 2-0 for the first time since 2008. “Did you see the way the students lined up as we walked off the field? Did you hear them cheering? That was a pretty amazing feeling.”
A throng of fans — mostly players’ family members and classmates, but also a number of unrelated well-wishers — had gathered at the gate that separates the locker room from the stands. The game had long-since ended and the Troy marching band had finished its postgame performance, which always draws a healthy crowd.
There was no compelling reason for so many people to stick around — but that’s exactly what they did. They greeted the players as they exited the stadium, seemingly wanting to soak in the moment for just as long as they possibly could. It’s as if they didn’t want the night to end.
For the first time in a long time, there was electricity flowing through Troy Memorial Stadium again Friday night. Although it’s exactly two weeks into a 10-week season (the possibility of a Week 11 is so far off in the distance, that any discussion of it probably best left there for at least another six weeks), it’s impossible not to feel the excitement returning to the Trojan football fanbase.
And truthfully — it’s hard not to blame the Trojan faithful, early though it may be. This is a program with a history that dates back to 1897. This is a program that has won more than 600 games, currently the 17th most in state history. This is a program that has produced Mr. Football Ohio, a Heisman finalist, All-Americans and countless legends and superstars.
It’s also a program that had fallen on hard times. In the past four years, the Trojans were 10-30. Troy won zero games at Troy Memorial Stadium last season. In the past four years combined, Troy had gone 4-16 at home — and one of those four wins actually came at Ferguson Field when a lightning delay forced a game to be moved back to a Saturday morning.
This is a town that is starved for a winner — if for no other reason than it is not used to anything else. The Trojans have had four losing seasons in a row … in the 119-year history of the program, that sort of streak has only happened six times prior. In more than a century of football, Troy has never had five losing seasons in a row.
The buzz started building in Week 1, when Troy upset Trotwood-Madison — a state champion in 2011 and a state finalist or semifinalist each of the past six years — 10-6, then only continued Friday night with the win over Northwest. Yes, there’s still a long way to go and 80 percent of an unpredictable season remaining, but the Trojan fans have a taste for winning and they have hope — something for which they’ve been searching.
And really, what’s not to love about this team? This team most likely will not have the same number of college players — and certainly not the same number of Division I college players — that some of Troy’s greatest teams have had in the past. There don’t appear to be any Kris Dielmans or Ryan Brewers or Bob Fergusons on this team … not any that have yet emerged as such, anyway.
What this team does have plenty of, however, is hard-working, scrappy kids who play together as a team. Even with two big wins under their belt, this team remains a lovable group of plucky underdogs who will never say quit and will outwork the opposition every chance they get.
None of this is lost on their coach.
“I don’t know … who would you pick?” Burgbacher said Friday night when asked to single out any individual performances. “How could I pick out someone on offense? No one person did it alone. It was everyone working together. And look at our defense? How could you possibly pick out one person on our defense? Every single kid we put out there made plays. It wasn’t just one kid. It was every single member of our team.”
Burgbacher knows a long season still remains and is focused on making sure his team takes nothing for granted and plays one game at a time. But for now, at least, he can start to enjoy what could be the start of something special.
Not so much for himself, mind you, but for a town that is wrapping both arms around his team.
“It was so great to see the students there to greet us as we came of the field,” Burgbacher said of the vocal student section, which has dubbed itself “The Big Red Rumble” and stood from the beginning of the game until well after it ended Friday in Mardi Gras-themed outfits. “That’s great for them and great for our players to see that. That’s what we work so hard for … we do it for this community.”
And, so far, that community is loving every minute of it.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong