COLUMN: Storylines to follow during Troy’s fall camp

Published 12:06 pm Tuesday, August 2, 2022

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The first fall camp of the Jon Sumrall era of Troy football kicks off this week and there are a number of things that fans can look out for during this preseason.

Fresh new faces

With incoming transfers come the excitement of the new and the unknown. Troy didn’t hit the transfer portal as hard as some schools – especially in the Group of Five – but if the motto is “quality over quantity” it seems the Trojans succeeded. The headliners of the incoming transfers are quarterback Peter Costelli from Utah and “athlete” Eric Shaw from South Carolina.

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Costelli brings to Troy not only a cannon for an arm and prototypical NFL size, but he may very well be one of the fastest quarterbacks in the entire country. Sumrall has described Costelli as having “NFL receiver speed” and said that the Trojans clocked Costelli recently at 21 MPH on their speed machine. Speed and potential does not equal a successful quarterback but it’s clear that Costelli has all the ingredients if he can put it together in Joe Craddock’s new offense.

Shaw may be one of the more intriguing new faces in the Trojan locker room, as well. He was an elite prospect in high school at Reeltown High School and Sumrall has stated that when he was at Kentucky, the Wildcat coaching staff recruited Shaw as a linebacker and had him rated as one of the top outside linebackers in the entire country.

Shaw was a superstar at Reeltown on both offense and defense and while he is officially listed as a receiver on the Troy roster, Sumrall has been referring to him as an “athlete” and has toyed with the idea of possibly playing him on defense or maybe even on both offense and defense. At 6-foot-5-inches and 212 pounds, Shaw is already one of the bigger receivers in the Sun Belt, but also posses the size that could benefit him in the defensive backfield or even at outside linebacker. I have no doubt that we will see him in a number of positions during fall camp.

Another player that jumped to Troy in the transfer portal is long snapper Quentin Skinner, who was rated as one of the top long snappers coming out of high school and was LSU’s long snapper the past two seasons and could fill a pretty big hole left by the departure of All-American long snapper Cameron Kaye. Also on special teams, Troy will have to replace Aussie punter Luke Magliozzi, who left Troy during the summer. Troy added punter Mike Rivers from North Carolina A&T as a transfer and Rivers will be competing with Kyle Coale in the fall.

Troy also went more traditionally with a number of transfers, looking to the junior college (JUCO) level, signing 6-foot-4-inch receiver Markus Ferrell from Ventura College and four offensive linemen, which leads us to our next storyline.

The big guys up front

Troy is coming into 2022 with the need to replace All-Sun Belt center Dylan Bradshaw but returning the other four starters on the line. Jake Andrews is an All-Sun Belt guard and Deandre Butler started 10 games at the other guard position last season. Austin Stidham – another All-Sun Belt player – and Grant Betts both return as starting tackles, as well. The center position, though, is one of the most important spots on the entire team as the center not only touches the ball every snap but also has to make the calls up front and communicate with his fellow linemen throughout the game.

During the spring, Andrews played at both his usual guard spot and at center, while Tennessee State transfer Jeremiah Frazier and redshirt freshman Logan Self also earned reps at center. Heading into fall camp, though, it seems as if Andrews has settled in at center and is making the move there officially. He even earned a spot on the Rimington Trophy Watch List this summer.

If that’s the case, who takes Andrews spot at guard and how quickly that is decided will likely go a long way to answering how quickly the line will be able to gel as a unit.

Depth on the line was very important to Sumrall in the offseason and Troy reached out to the JUCO level to sign four new linemen. Those linemen include California native Sydney Solomon, Milwaukee, WI native Jonas Woods, United Kingdom native Tyler Harvey-Fallows and Oklahoma native Kobe Williams. The coaching staff’s hope is that the JUCO transfers can immediately add depth to the group along with driving competition.

Dominant defense returns

Almost the entirety of last season’s defense returns, including All-American Carlton Martial along with All-Sun Belt performers like Javon Solomon, Richard Jibunor and safety TJ Harris. What was already a dominant defense may very well end up being one of the best defenses in Troy history and one of the nastiest across all of college football.

Sumrall is a “defensive guy” and he seems as excited about his defensive group as I’ve ever seen a coach. With so much returning talent on that side of the ball it will be interesting to watch some of the younger players during fall camp as they attempt to push for playing time with the veterans. It will also be intriguing to see how Shaw takes to getting snaps on defense, as he most assuredly will during fall camp. Also, just how many records will Martial break this season? My bet is virtually all of them.

The quarterback competition

The final, and possibly most important, storyline going into fall camp is the competition brewing in the quarterback room with the arrival of the aforementioned Costelli. All eyes tend to immediately look at the quarterback position anyway but with such a highly touted arrival, that will be amplified even more this season.

Gunnar Watson returns to Troy with 23 game appearances under his belt – including 16 starts – while no other Troy quarterback has ever even taken a snap in a game. The position Watson is in right now is a familiar one as he was embattled in a quarterback competition in both 2020 and 2021. Watson ultimately won the competition going into the 2020 season but lost in 2021 to Missouri transfer Taylor Powell, before taking over midway through the season.

Watson’s career has had a number of highs and lows and his spring mirrored that. According to his head coach, though, Watson has embraced the arrival of Costelli and it’s already pushed him to improve himself, especially in the weight room. Watson will likely be fired up and ready to prove himself once again in fall camp.

Quayde Hawkins and Tucker Kilcrease have almost become forgotten during the summer, due primarily to the arrival of Costelli, but Hawkins ended the spring still in competition with Watson for the No. 1 spot at quarterback. The big-armed redshirt freshman will also have to contend with Kilcrease, who was one of the top high school quarterbacks in the Wiregrass during his high school career at Brantley.

Fall camp starts Wednesday morning and The Messenger will have full coverage throughout fall practices.