COLUMN: Just call them the ‘Turnaround Trojans’

Published 11:37 am Tuesday, November 29, 2022

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You would be hard pressed to find a season – and a turnaround – by both a college and high school football team anywhere else in the country quite like what has been seen in the City of Troy in 2022.

I know that I’ve never seen anything like it and Troy itself certainly hasn’t. While Charles Henderson High School and Troy University both have deep, rich football tradition, the two schools have never won a championship in the same season.

As hard as that may be to believe, CHHS has one state championship – in 1980 – while Troy has three national championships and a slew of conference championships. However, the two programs have never won a championship in the same season, and they’ve also never played for a championship in the same season.

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That all changes this week, however, as Charles Henderson plays for the Class 5A State Championship on Thursday night followed by Troy hosting Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Championship on Saturday night. Troy’s volleyball team also hosts the NIVC Tournament this week, as well. It could be argued that this is the biggest week in the history of sports in the City of Troy.

When you look at the history of Troy Football and think about the caliber of athletes that have stepped foot on the field at “The Vet,” and the history of the big upsets and big games that have been played there, this is the very first collegiate championship game to have ever been played there.

DeMarcus Ware, Leodis McKelvin, Ted Horstead, Mike Turk, Osi Umenyiora, Lawrence Tynes, Al Lucas, Jimmy McClain, Rayshun Reed, Demontray Carter, Marcus Jones, Billy Atkins, Sim Byrd, DeWhitt Betterson, Chan Gailey, Larry Blakeney, Jerrel Jernigan and Rick Rhodes are all “household names” for Trojan fans, but none of those players/coaches got a chance to play in a championship game in Troy.

Not a single player on Charles Henderson’s roster was alive the last time CHHS raised a state championship trophy, not even I was alive. The last time CHHS even competed for a title, most of this year’s team was under the age of 10.

Troy found plenty of success under both Blakeney and Neal Brown, winning a share of the Sun Belt Crown in both 2010 and 2017. The last time Troy won a conference championship outright, though, was in 2009 when much of the current Trojans were likely in elementary school.

All of this history making is remarkable in itself but what makes it even more special is when you look at where these two programs were just two years ago. Troy won just 10 games in the previous two years combined, while Charles Henderson won just three during that span. In fact, CHHS held a combined 6-22 record between 2019 and 2021, while Troy’s record was 15-19 during that span.

For a high school team to go from two wins one season and then not only win 12 games but advance all the way to the state championship is unfathomable, almost as unfathomable as a college team going from 5-6 in back-to-back seasons to winning 10 games and being in discussion as a Top 25 team. In fact, all things considered, that Troy is not currently ranked in the Top 25 seems almost criminal.

Program turnarounds are not unheard of in college or high school football but turnarounds this drastic, this quickly, are certainly not the norm. It’s been a special thing to witness, especially having a chance to have seen a lot of the hard work and effort put in by both of these coaching staffs and players since I got to The Messenger back in February.

None of the success that these two teams have earned has come because they “got good” in the past four months. The success these programs are seeing is a return on the investment of “sweat equity” they put in back in January and in the spring and during the summer and all the way through fall camp and the regular season.

Regardless of what happens on Thursday or Saturday night, these teams can be proud of everything they’ve accomplished and the fans, alumni and family of these teams can also be proud of it and enjoy it. Who knows if something special like this will ever happen again?