TROY — The scarlet jerseys, gray pants and gold socks — a tribute to those battling childhood cancer — lay in an acrid pile inside the Troy football team’s lockerroom, awaiting Troy coach Matt Burgbacher to come along, scoop them up and deliver them to the washing machine.
Truth be told, it was an ignominious end for the uniforms that — just a short time earlier — had adorned the Troy football players who had left everything they had out on the field in a 21-17 loss to area powerhouse Miamisburg in a game the Trojans seemingly had won until the Vikings scored a touchdown with just 8 seconds to play in the game.
It didn’t seem right to see them splayed out on the concrete floor of Troy’s lockerroom in a heap. It was almost as if they were waiting for the Trojans to come back in, put them back on and go out for one more play — a final chance to win a game so few expected them to even be competitive in, let alone win.
Those uniforms — and those boys — deserved one more play.
Such is the cruelty — and finality — of the world of sports, however. There would not be one more play for those uniforms or those Trojans … not on this night, anyway.
Still, though, the soiled uniforms — many coated in dirt, grass stains, sweat and tears — were a testament to all the Trojans had given … and, truthfully, just how far they have come in such a short period of time.
As recently as last year, putting on a Troy football uniform didn’t carry quite the cachet it had previously in Troy’s proud gridiron lineage. The Trojans went 2-8 last season to close out a four-year run that saw them go a combined 10-30. It didn’t seem to mean nearly as much as it once did, and it certainly didn’t strike fear into much of anyone’s heart in quite the same way it once had.
All of that is changing, however … even on the heels of a heartbreaking loss to Miamisburg. The Vikings have become one of the premier teams in the Miami Valley of late. The Vikings have been to the playoffs each of the past three seasons and are starting to produce a string of Division I college prospects, including senior offensive lineman Josh Myers, the top-rated offensive lineman in the country according to many recruiting experts and a future Ohio State Buckeye.
When Troy and Miamisburg played the past two years, the Vikings defeated the Trojans by a combined score of 88-29 — and to be blunt, the games may not have been that close.
Miamisburg has become a benchmark for local football teams — and the Trojans have shown they are within a whisker of being right there with the area’s elite.
And, truth be told, they’ve arrived far earlier than most would have guessed.
“If I had told anyone outside this program we would have been 4-1 at this point in the season, do you think anyone would have believed me?” Burgbacher asked. “I don’t know that there’s a lot of people that would have believed that when they looked at our schedule the first five weeks of the season.”
Perhaps the only people who truly believed the Trojans would be 4-1 — and would have come so painfully close to knocking off Miamisburg — were the coaches and, more to the point, the players who are now proud to don the scarlet and gray Trojan uniforms every week.
All of which made Friday’s loss — a game every player in that lockerroom thought they would win — that much more bitter to the taste.
“All of our kids were crying after this one,” Burgbacher said. “But that’s not a bad thing. That means they care. Last year, we could have lost a game and the kids would have been in here fooling around. It’s not like that anymore. This one hurts because these kids care.”
And, for the first time in a long time, they’ve made the community start caring about Troy football again. The home stands at Troy Memorial Stadium were filled to capacity Friday night. There was a palpable buzz in the air. The mood was electric. It was like old times again.
Being a football player in Troy means something once again. Wearing that uniform — as lonely as it looked on the floor after the game Friday — means something once again.
Troy football matters once again.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong