By David Fong
TROY — After one of the tumultuous offseasons in recent Troy football history, the Trojans are — finally — on the eve of getting back to work once again.
For the first time since 1984, a Troy football coach was not invited back to coach during the offseason. That led to the hiring of Matt Burgbacher — a Tippecanoe High School graduate and the former head coach at Fort Loramie — to take over Troy’s proud program, which played its first game in 1897.
Ohio High School Athletic Association rules allowed teams to begin practice Saturday, but Burgbacher elected to give his team the entire weekend off to get “mentally and physically recharged” for the start of two-a-days, which Troy will begin tomorrow.
There will be plenty of things for Troy fans to keep their eyes in in the preseason, but here are five of the most intriguing storylines to follow between now and Aug. 27 (a Thursday), when Troy opens the regular season against Chaminade Julienne at Wayne High School:
1) The new guy in town: Burgbacher has known nothing but success during his coaching career. In his six years at Fort Loramie, the Redskins went to the playoffs every season under Burgbacher. Prior to taking the head coaching job at Fort Loramie, he was an assistant to under his father, Charlie, for Tippecanoe’s ultra-successful run, as the Red Devils went to the playoffs four out of the five years he was there.
How will Burgbacher’s success at a smaller school translate to Troy’s Division II program? Only time will tell. What we do know right now is that Burgbacher needs to win the trust of his team immediately. For all intents and purposes, he appears to have done a good job of that in the offseason, keeping in constant contact with his new players during offseason workouts and through summer camps.
This first preseason camp is an important one for Burgbacher, as it will set the tone for his future at Troy.
2) The search for depth: Troy has a number of players returning at key positions. Junior Hayden Kotwica returns at quarterback. Jared Bair, Chris Linville and Dallas Shamblin all return along the offensive line. Troy’s defense backfield — composed almost entirely of underclassmen a year ago — returns almost everyone, this time with a year of varsity experience under their belts.
Troy’s starting units on both offense and defense should be filled with experienced players. That’s the good news. Once Troy gets past the starters, however, things could get shaky — not necessarily for lack of talent, but more for lack of experience. Don’t be surprised to see a number of players going both ways on offense and defense — Burgbacher already has stated that’s going to happen.
How long can those starters hold up under the strain of going both ways? And what if some of those starters are injured, particularly early in the season? Troy needs younger, more inexperienced players to get up to varsity speed as quickly as possible to provide the Trojans with much-needed depth.
3) Is the future now?: Numerous times during last year’s frustrating 1-9 season, those around the program — perhaps searching for any glimmer of hope — pointed to a talented freshman class and an eighth grade class that won back-to-back Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division titles in junior high school as signs that help was on the way.
Those youngsters now will be sophomores and freshmen. And while their past success certainly is promising, anyone who follows high school football with any sort of regularity knows success at lower levels doesn’t always translate into varsity success. In fact, sometimes the opposite happens. In 2010, Troy made the playoffs with a class of seniors that not only didn’t win a single game in junior high school, but only scored one touchdown in two years.
Will Troy’s underclassmen bring long-term success to the program? Will they make an immediate impact this year? It’s worth watching to see how many sophomores — or possibly even freshman — end up playing on Friday nights this season.
4) What’s old is new again: After a three-year absence, Troy will again be running the wing-t offense, the same offense that produced hundreds of wins — and dozens of record-setting running backs — during Steve Nolan’s 28 years at Troy. While no wing-t offense is exactly like another — there are as many variations of the offense as there are Oregon Duck uniform combinations — some fans will be pleased to see a return to the familiar.
(Certainly, though, there also will be a fair share of detractors wanting Troy to throw the ball more — there’s no pleasing everyone).
In any event, the wing-t relies on multiple running backs to make things go. Last season, Troy struggled to find even one running back capable of carrying the load. Last season, Troy’s leading rusher was Elijah Pearson, who rushed for 445 yards. Pearson is slated to return this season, but for Troy — which averaged just 8.9 points per game last year — to be successful, multiple threats will need to emerge at running back during preseason practices.
5) Preseason scrimmages: Repeat after me — “Scrimmages do not count.”
Say it again: “Scrimmages do not count.”
Except, of course, when they do.
Pretty much every high school coach in Ohio will tell you scrimmages don’t count in the final standings and no one ever won a league title in a preseason contest. And, for the most part, they are right.
For a time that went 1-9 and faced running clocks in the second half of 50 percent of its blowout losses one year ago, Troy’s scrimmages this season may actually have some meaning. Last season bruised Troy’s confidence. If the Trojans are manhandled during the preseason this year, there’s a chance players could start thinking, “Here we go again.”
Troy doesn’t need to be perfect in its scrimmages — or even necessarily win, for that matter — but strong showings could go a long way toward rebuilding some of the Trojans’ confidence going into the regular season.
Troy will get things started Saturday with an intrasquad scrimmage — which Burgbacher is calling Troy’s “scarlet and gray game” — Saturday at Troy Memorial Stadium. It is tentatively scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. and will be open to the public.
The Trojans then will play a pair of traditional scrimmages — at Reynoldsburg Aug. 15 and at home against Dunbar Aug. 21. The OHSAA allows for three scrimmages against other schools, which is something the Trojans have never done before. Burgbacher said the team may add a third scrimmage at some point down the road, but for now will stay at two.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong