By David Fong
TROY — Matt Burgbacher always wants his players to learn from their mistakes.
If his players can learn from someone else’s mistakes, however, that’s even better.
Several times in recent weeks, college football players at high-profile schools have made the mistake of dropping the ball just before they crossed into the end zone for a touchdown. Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud and Cal’s Vic Enwere both cost their teams touchdowns when they dropped the ball early on apparent breakaway touchdowns.
Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon should have had has touchdown called back last Saturday against Ohio State on a kickoff return, but officials missed the call and the touchdown was allowed to stand.
For Burgbacher, the Troy High School football coach, all were valuable lessons for his own team.
“Those are teaching moments,” Burgbacher said. “You always want to try to limit the judgment calls for officials in games. We are always looking for moments like that where we can teach something to our own kids. We do it when we break down opponents’ films, too. If we see them doing something wrong on film, we use that as a teaching moment for our kids.”
Burgbacher said his team policy on scoring touchdowns is very clear to his players.
“We tell our kids that the goal-line is actually 5 yards inside the end zone,” he said. “You get the ball 5 yards inside the end zone, then you walk over and you hand the ball to the official. When the officials get the ball from you, then it’s a touchdown.”
There have been many factors in the Trojans’ early success this season — Troy is 4-0 for the first time since 2000.
Certainly the offseason conditioning program headed up by strength and conditioning coach Aaron Gibbons has been one of them. But Burgbacher also thinks the word his team has done in the classroom has translated well on the field, as well.
“Last spring, our team grade point average was a 3.2,” he said. “That’s every kid on the team. That’s not just us picking and choosing certain kids. That’s every single kid we had on our roster. Overall, this is a smart football team. I do think that helps. The fact of the matter is, we are teachers in addition to coaches and we have to teach the kids what we want them to do. I think it does make a difference when you have a team that can pick things up a little quicker.”
Take it on the run
Through the first four games of this season, Troy quarterback Hayden Kotwica has completed 33 of 61 passes for 494 yards and three touchdowns. Decent numbers to be sure, but at this same point last season, he had completed 52 of 101 passes for 758 yards and eight touchdowns.
There’s another big difference between this season and last season — through the first four games of this season, the Trojans are 4-0, while at this point last season, Troy has 1-3.
The emergence of Troy’s running game — in particular both running back Josh Browder and Kotwica himself — have given the Trojans the balanced attack Burgbacher was looking for last season. Last season, Troy averaged 133.6 rushing yards per game, 16th out of 18 teams in the Greater Western Ohio Conference. This season, the Trojans are averaging 252.0 rushing yards per game, sixth out of 20 teams in the GWOC.
“Absolutely, one of our goals during the offseason was to make sure we established more of a running game this season,” Burgbacher said. “We’ve definitely run the ball more effectively this season. And Hayden doesn’t really care about his numbers — all he cares about is wins and losses. If he only throws two passes in a game and we win, he’s OK with that.
“This whole team is unselfish. Sometimes, if you want to win, you have to suck things up, and our kids have done that this season.”
Ray of sunshine
There were no shortage of highlights in Troy’s 42-14 win over Fairborn last week.
For Burgbacher, though, on in particular stood out.
After the Trojans had built a 35-0 halftime lead, he elected to have many of his starters — including Kotwica — sit the entire second half. He inserted Andrew Ray at quarterback. On the second play of the third quarter, Ray completed a 46-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Jackson.
“That was great to see,” Burgbacher said. “Andrew has been the back up for three years now, but we know when his number is called, he’s always going to be ready. Being the back up quarterback is one of the toughest jobs on the team. He never knows when we are going to need him or when we are going to call on him.”
On starting 4-0
There’s a lot of football to be played yet this season, but from an historical standpoint, Troy’s 4-0 start to the season — its first since 2000 — would seem to portend good things.
In the 120 year history of the Troy football program, this is the 29th time the Trojans have started 4-0. The Trojans have never had a losing season in a year in which they started 4-0. Their worst record was a 6-3 finish in 1958. Of the 28 previous times Troy has started 4-0, it has finished the regular season undefeated 11 times, finished with no losses and one tie one time and lost just one regular season game 11 times.
Since the Ohio High School Athletic Association instituted a playoff system in 1973, the Trojans have eight out of eight times in which they started a season 4-0.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong