TROY — The final dress rehearsal is over, and in just four short days — a day earlier than most teams throughout the state — the season will officially begin for the Troy football team.
It was an offseason of upheaval for the Trojans, as Tippecanoe High School graduate Matt Burgbacher was hired from Fort Loramie to turn around a program that went 1-9 last season and is looking for its first winning season since 2011.
As is the case whenever there’s a coaching change, there will be more questions than answers entering the season. Two scrimmages have given brief glimpses of what could be. Those are merely snapshots, however, as the big picture will take at least 10 weeks to play out to the fullest.
Even with those brief glimpses into what awaits for the Trojans this year, however, I feel fairly confident in making five fearless predictions for 2015 (We’ll check back at the end of the season to see how I did … what’s the point of making predictions if you aren’t held accountable?):
Prediction No. 1: Hayden Kotwica will flirt with 1,000 passing yards this season
Kotwica was thrust into the starting spot early in his sophomore year. Then, during the offseason, he had to learn an entirely new offense. From what I’ve seen this summer, he appears ready to make a huge jump this season.
His athleticism has never been in question, but Burgbacher said he’s become a true student of the game, as well. He has a lot going in his favor this season, too. From what Troy has shown in its two scrimmages, there won’t be a shortage of passing attempts for Kotwica this year. Also, he’s got several talented receivers, led by Luke Robinson and Zach Boyer.
Speaking of Boyer …
Prediction No. 2: Zach Boyer will have a breakout season
Boyer’s athleticism matches up well with anyone in the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division. That was evident last year when he earned a starting role in Troy’s defensive backfield as a freshman — a rarity for a program like Troy, even during the lean years.
In the spring, Boyer — still a freshman, mind you — competed on the Troy track team. Midway through the season, he became a hurdler, something he had never done before. All he did was qualify for regionals and miss qualifying for state by a few places.
He’ll be playing primarily on offense this season, something he didn’t do last season. He’s shown great hands and — considering it’s a new position for him — pretty good route running. Those two things, coupled with his natural speed and athleticism, make him a great target for Kotwica.
Kotwica will benefit from having Boyer. Boyer will benefit from having Kotwica. Works out for everyone.
Prediction No. 3: Marc Scordia will be a fan favorite this season
It’s hard not to love the way Scordia plays the game. The kid is a throwback. He’ll likely see plenty of time at both running back and inside linebacker for the Trojans. On defense, he loves coming up and hitting people, plus he has a nose for the ball, recording an interception and fumble recovery in Troy’s first scrimmage.
On offense, he’s not particularly flashy, but he’s effective. He plants his foot and gets upfield. When engaging defenders, he lowers his head and delivers a blow. He’s a fun player to watch.
Plus, he dressed like Batman at the Altrusa Corporate Spelling Bee last spring. What’s not to love?
Prediction No. 4: Troy’s defense will get better as the season progresses
In its two scrimmages, Troy’s defense has struggled, particularly in giving up big plays. More than half of the touchdowns it gave up against Reynoldsburg and Dunbar were from more than 50 yards out. That’s a recipe for disaster.
It’s also something I (fearlessly) predict will be rectified by the end of the season — and likely sooner as opposed to later. The long touchdowns Troy has given up haven’t been because defenders have been out of position — most have been the result of missed tackles.
The Trojans have been in great position to make plays — now they just need to make them.
Defensive coordinator Charlie Burgbacher — Matt’s father — is one of the best in the business. His track record as head coach at Tippecanoe proves that. I have little doubt the tackling problem Troy has experienced in its two scrimmages will be fixed.
Charlie will accept nothing less.
Prediction No. 5: Troy will be a better team than last year
OK, that may not seem like a particularly bold statement — or fearless prediction — considering the Trojans went 1-9 last season. They practically have no place to else to go but up.
But I mean much more than that. Yes, Troy will win more games than it did last year. But overall, the entire program is trending upward. Not only will they win more games this year than they did last year, but I think they’ll win more next year and then again the year after that.
There is a wealth of talent, and more depth, throughout the program — from junior high to freshmen to junior varsity to varsity — than I believe there necessarily has been the past few years. That’s not saying Troy hasn’t had its shining stars — there just haven’t been enough of them.
Also — and this obviously is a little harder to measure — but I sense an excitement outside the program. Fans seem to be genuinely excited to see in what direction the program is headed. You can’t underestimate the impact of a motivated fanbase.
Of course, this is the honeymoon phase. Time will tell how this all plays out.
We’ll check back in 10 weeks and see how I did.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong