Troy seniors look back on special season

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 3, 2005

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Troy University has had a special football team this season. It's going to be even more special in the years to come.

&uot;In 25 years, people are going to want to invite these guys back for a football game and honor them,&uot; head coach Larry Blakeney said after the Trojans' 34-21 loss to Northern Illinois in the Silicon Valley Football Classic on Thursday night in San Jose, Calif. &uot;Not just for what they did on the field, but a lot of these guys are going to be successful and they're going to have money that we're going to ask them to donate.&uot;

The coach has an obvious affection for this team, particularly this senior class.

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Guys like Derrick Ansley weren't taken on a tour of Movie Gallery Veterans Stadium when they were recruited to come to Troy five years ago. Offensive lineman Henry Tellis didn't make up his mind to attend Troy after seeing the stadium club and his name on the jumbotron and the schedule that included games at LSU, South Carolina and the prospect of a bowl trip.

Remember, none of that existed five years ago - at least not as things stand today. There was a plan, of course. A hope. At least a dream. But Blakeney and his staff had to get players to buy into that dream.

That they were rewarded with a bowl trip was a genuine pleasure for Blakeney to see.

&uot;It made me feel good for them to get some kind of recognition on the back end of this deal,&uot; Blakeney said. &uot;They've been through an awful lot. It's because of them that this happened. They trusted us enough help them develop as players. We trusted them enough to move this program in the right direction.&uot;

That mutual trust is at the center of the bond between the head coach and this senior class.

&uot;I was recruited by a lot of big schools,&uot; said Tellis, a 6-6, 308-pound left tackle from Sidney Lanier High in Montgomery. &uot;I liked them, but they were too big. I knew I wanted a smaller environment but still wanted big-time football atmosphere. I just felt most comfortable here.&uot;

Ansley laughed when he asked if he envisioned playing in a Division I-A bowl game when he signed to come to Troy.

&uot;No way,&uot; said the senior free safety. &uot;We wanted to win the Southland Football League in I-AA my freshman year. We were playing McNeese State and Southwest Texas. Bowling was the last thing on my mind.&uot;

He played in three games, sustained a knee injury and was red-shirted in 2000. His first start came the following season in the opener - at Nebraska.

&uot;That was unbelievable,&uot; Ansley said as the memory created a smile. He made nine tackles that day.

But that didn't crack his two favorite career moments.

&uot;I think beating Marshall this year might have been my favorite,&uot; Ansley said. &uot;They had a target on us the whole offseason. They kept saying last year (a Trojan victory over Marshall in Troy) was a fluke. And we went up there and beat them.&uot;

No. 2 was close behind.

&uot;Beating Missouri on national television,&uot; he said.

And yet, Ansley - who started every game the past three seasons - didn't know any of that was in store when he committed to Troy.

&uot;They said they were moving to I-A,&uot; he recalled. &uot;I didn't know who we would play. I didn't know we'd play on the road so much. But this has been a great place for me. I've had a great career here. The campus got a lot bigger.&uot;

Tellis has thrived, not just on the field but in the classroom.

&uot;I love the classroom setting at Troy,&uot; he said. &uot;Since I've been here, I've grown into this bigger family, this campus family. Most schools separate athletes from the rest of the students. I've always felt a part of the student body here.&uot;

Again, Tellis didn't know how far the program would come during his college career.

He had to trust that what he was told would happen.

&uot;I knew all these things were planned,&uot; Tellis said. &uot;There are a lot of highlights.&uot;

Among his favorite, the overall move to Division I-A, the victory over Mississippi State in 2001, the victory over Missouri this year, the overall expansion of Movie Gallery Veterans Stadium, and playing three games at Nebraska.

&uot;The best thing about the bowl trip is having the chance to see my teammates again,&uot; Tellis said. &uot;I like spending time with them. That's what I'm going to miss.&uot;