Blakeney excited about new 1-A status
"We are well into our growth and maturity as a football program," Troy State head coach Larry Blakeney told a group of Rotarians Tuesday afternoon.
The 11-year coach of the Trojans held back none of his excitement – or his reservations – as he went about the business of running down the upcoming season.
"I can’t be responsible for what they do over the summer, but the conditioning coach tells me things have gone well," Blakeney said of voluntary summer workouts. "I think most of the time peer pressure is a good motivator for them to get out there and work hard during the summer."
And working hard will be a necessity for continued success as the Trojans move into being a 1A program, a move that was finalized last week.
"Now the work really begins to make sure we do all the things we have to do to compete at that level," Blakeney said.
But he feels confident TSU is already on the right track
"We’re recruiting good people, we’re winning a few games and making our folks happy," Blakeney said, pointing to the fact
that the college as a whole is growing because of the support from the community. "That’s going to be evident when this freshman class roles in. I don’t have any specific numbers, but I would dare to say it’s the largest Troy State has ever brought in."
And with this growth and success, Blakeney feels the next step for him as a coach and the players as a team is the largest step they have had to take together.
"We’re facing a tremendous challenge, after being here 11 years, going into our 12th year as a 1A team," Blakeney said.
Amid the many changes that come with being a 1A team, the Trojans’ schedule is becoming increasingly more difficult. Compounding what will naturally be a tougher schedule, the Trojans are still an independent team, though Blakeney said there are several conferences that could still become TSU’s home.
"While you are an independent, you need to be doing the things that you can do (to become affiliated with a conference) – that being make money, that being creating situations where you get tremendous exposure nationally," Blakeney said. "They way to do that is to play you a Nebraska and a Miami in the same year."
Of course, Blakeney is the first to admit that taking on such a schedule is a daunting task for an up-and-coming squad. He is also the first to point out the payoffs.
"We took two losses because of (playing Nebraska and Miami) last year. But, from the first day anybody talked about college football last year to the national championship, Troy State was involved because we were the only team that played both of those teams," Blakeney said.
No matter the task before them, Blakeney said his guys will be ready to take on any opponent, something he said was evident from last year’s trip to Nebraska.
"That was one of the saltiest places our guys have ever played, and they were ready to take them on. But I’ll be honest, I was looking for a paper bag to pull over my head before the game at Lincoln, Neb.," Blakeney said to the laugh of the crowd.
And Blakeney is keeping
good humor about this year’s schedule filled with powerhouse foes.
"There’s a lot of pretty big, high-profile programs this year," he said. "We basically play for the Big 12 championship in the first four weeks of games. Then we try to take the West in the (Southeastern Conference) after that."
He is also going forward with the philosophy of "nothing ventured, nothing gained" as the team’s motto.
"If we had never scheduled Mississippi State last year, Troy State people would have not been able to say we beat an SEC team," Blakeney said. "So we have to get to a point where we take these schedules and use it as a positive, play these people, do our best and then take it into a conference affiliation. Then you have a whole new scheduling coalition, which gives you a chance to play teams here."
Blakeney said their success thus far has already earned them three big games at home.
"Iowa State, Missouri and Marshall I believe are all coming right over here folks, right over here to Troy, Ala., to play in Memorial Stadium."
The Trojans coach also challenged fans to follow TSU on the road.
"The fans that were at Mississippi State, despite the rain and delays, those fans never had a better time at any other game. From what I saw from where I was, I honestly believe that," Blakeney said, emphasizing that bowl and conference affiliates look for teams that can put "fans in the stands."
As for the Trojan team preparing to take on some of the biggest names in college football, Blakeney is reserving his comments for later.
"I never make predictions, but I will tell you that we are two on the road, one at home; two on the road, one at home; two on the road, one at home," he said. "But if you bring your heart into the fight
you narrow that gap and increase your chances of winnings, no matter who you are playing."
And be sure Blakeney will remind his team of the success of last year, when heart was leading the Trojans to some of their best victories – and some of the best stories he has been able to tell.
Blakeney said he remembered playing the University of Miami in the Orange Bowl in the heat. It was the first game back after Sept. 11, and security was high. ESPN followed the Trojans from the time they arrived in Miami until they finished practicing Monday night.
Despite the loss to the Hurricanes, it became the best memory of the Mississippi State game.
"We walked out and there was a big screen TV sitting in the lobby, and as we walked out that piece came on television. You know, we took that and got on the bus.
"I jumped on the first bus, and the bus driver looked at me, and he said, ‘Boy, it’s some great weather for an upset.’ I said, ‘I’m with you, cuz.’"
For Blakeney and his team, that piece – and the foreshadowing of the bus driver – helped drive them to a big win against the Bulldogs.
"It got to the point our defense was whopping Mississippi State so bad, I was afraid to do anything on offense but punt," he said.
This year, if Blakeney has his way, that same thrill and excitement will return.
"We start early Thursday morning with two-a-days," Blakeney said. "We’ll see how everything shakes out from there."