‘Family Feel’ attracts 2023 Trojan transfers

Published 10:31 am Tuesday, March 28, 2023

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The 2023 Troy Trojans will look similar, in ways, to last seasons team but much different in other ways as a crop of junior college (JUCO) and Division I transfers have joined the team during spring practices.

With so many veterans departing from the 2022 Sun Belt Championship team, especially on defense, the Troy coaching staff hit the transfer portal hard this offseason and has brought in a crop of newcomers that will potentially make an immediate impact.

One of the first headline grabbing transfers to commit to Troy during the offseason is very familiar with Troy coach Jon Sumrall. Receiver Chris Lewis, a Birmingham native, transferred to Troy from Kentucky, where Sumrall previously served as an assistant coach.

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“Just having that relationship with Coach Sumrall was big for me,” Lewis said of his decision to transfer to Troy. “He was one of the first guys to recruit me and stayed with me through the whole process (in high school). When I went into the (transfer) portal, he was one of the first coaches to reach out to me again and I knew I could trust him.”

Relationships that have been built – with coaches and players – is one of the common themes that almost all of the transfers that The Messenger has spoken to this spring pointed to as reasons for coming to Troy.

For former Memphis and Auburn running back Asa Martin, those relationships also included his Austin High School teammate Reddy Steward.

“I wanted to be able to finish my last year in my home state and get to play with Reddy again,” Martin said. “It’s good to be back around a family environment and people that are for me. (Reddy) had a big impact on me coming.

“When I was contemplating hitting the portal, I didn’t just want to go somewhere and have to start all over. I wanted to go somewhere where I have those relationships with people I already knew. I knew Coach Sumrall and knew Reddy, obviously. I think that helped me come here because I already had those relationships with those guys here.”

Defensive end Raymond Cutts (31) was a JUCO All-American last season.

Defensive end Raymond Cutts was once an elite high school football prospect that started out at Central Florida before off-the-field issues derailed his career. After becoming a JUCO All-American at Garden City Community College, he said that the Troy staff was willing to give him a second chance to prove himself.

“They were one of the schools that stuck around when I had my issues,” Cutts said. “With my background, a lot of schools backed away but Troy gave me that second chance. They stuck with me through the whole process and that really made me want to come here.”

For JUCO linebacker Steven Cattledge, who led the entire country in tackles last season, the energy the coaching staff brought to his recruitment appealed to him.

“The program they’ve built here is what made me want to come to Troy,” Cattledge said. “The first year here they turned the program around. Coach (Tayler) Polk, and Coach Sumrall, is really what made me want to come. The energy they bring, it made me flip my commitment to them because it was kind of the way the coaches were back at (East Mississippi Community College). It feels like family over here.”

That family environment is what made 6-foot-5-inch offensive tackle Elijah Philipe, a JUCO transfer who had offers from Power 5 schools like Auburn and South Carolina, become a Trojan.

“When I came on my visit (the coaches) made it feel like home,” he said. “That kind of gave me no other choice. They did a good job of recruiting me and everything they sold it as, it is. They make you feel like home and with my parents being a 14-hour drive away I feel like I’m in good hands here.”

For former Iowa safety Reggie Bracy, a Mobile native, it was a combination of returning home, the coaching staff and the weather.

Reggie Bracy (7) directs the Troy defense at safety.

“I needed to come back home,” Bracy said with a smile. “I’ve been up there in Iowa for three years and Troy is really close to home. Coach Sumrall has a lot of great connections in Mobile, I knew about Coach Sumrall even before I went to Iowa.

“So, I felt like this was closer to home and my family and I enjoy the weather a lot more down here, that’s for sure. The weather is bad (in Iowa); it’s brutal. I do not know how people live up there. I’m pretty sure it snowed last week. Winter is like eight months out of the year, so I’m glad to be back down here.”

West Virginia transfer quarterback Will “Goose” Crowder, who is a Gardendale native, had a connection from last year’s team that impacted his decision to come to Troy.

“Jarret (Doege) is one of my good friends and he was giving me some input (on Troy),” Crowder said. “He was definitely a shoulder to lean on for me because he had been through the process and I knew him really well at West Virginia. I lean on him for his advice and input and he told me this was a great spot with great coaching and had nothing but good things to say about Troy.”

Crowder has been impressed with the culture that has been built at Troy, as well.

“The culture here is what really set (Troy) apart for me,” Crowder continued. “Coming here, you just feel the energy when you walk in the locker room. In the weight room, guys are self-motivated and flying around and happy to be here. There’s a lot of great people here and it’s a great spot to be.”

Wofford transfer receiver/punter Landon Parker agreed with Crowder’s assessment of the type of people around the program.

“The coaching staff here are really great people and there’s a family environment,” he emphasized. “They really bring you as another one of their sons almost. There’s just a lot of great people here and it felt like a good fit for me as an older guy coming in and hopefully having a big role on the team and being a leader.”

Transfer linebacker Steven Cattledge (22) is a player vying to fill the shoes of the NCAA’s all-time tackles leader Carlton Martial.

Bracy’s first impression of his teammates was a positive one, too.

“There’s a lot of cool guys and funny guys with a lot of characters on this team but it’s also a team that sticks together,” he said. “It’s not really like that everywhere across the country and seeing how many boys, aged 18-23, can gel together – and gel so well – was interesting and unique to see.”

A character that Troy fans will be getting to know this season is Crowder, who said he got his “Goose” nickname from exactly the place that most people would suspect.

“I was a big Top Gun fan growing up and Goose was my favorite character,” he said with a big grin. “It’s stuck ever since. Goose, that’s me.”

Martin comes to Troy after a stellar career at Memphis, following a season with Auburn as a freshman, where he rushed for 776 yards and 10 touchdowns in three seasons along with 747 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns last season. With Troy needing to replace the production lost by the graduation of DK Billingsley, Martin believes he will be a compliment to All-Sun Belt running back Kimani Vidal.

“I just want to make an impact on the offense and do anything I can to help (the offense) and help win ball games,” Martin said of his goals at Troy. “Kimani, that dude is good. He’s a low center of gravity type of back and I think we’re different style of guys. He’s more of a power guy that goes through you, so I think we’ll really compliment each other.”

Philipe is looking for perfection as he tries to move into a starting role on Troy’s offensive line, which needs to replace three starters from a year ago.

“Learning the technique they want me to learn here is the big thing for me,” Philipe said. “That’s one thing you have to learn anywhere you go. The words may be different but it all means the same. What changes is how you do it.

“I want to be a technician and I want to be able to do things the right way. I want to be able to earn a starting spot and I think the sky is the limit. I want to do everything I can to help. If I can never give up a sack, I want to do that. I want to make every assignment; my goal is to be perfect. I want to be best offensive tackle I can be.”

Lewis, like Philipe, is working towards learning the Troy offense but said he just wants to help the team no matter what that means.

“I feel like it’s going pretty good so far, learning the offense and learning the plays,” Lewis said. “That’s the biggest thing for me, once I learn everything I need to then I’ll be able to play fast. My goal for this year is just to be there when my number is called and do whatever I need to do to help the team win.”

Crowder had a similar outlook on 2023.

“I want to be the best teammate possible and be the best guy for the team possible,” Crowder emphasized. “If that means me stepping on the field and taking every snap, or if that’s me being a backup and helping the guy in front of me lead the charge, that’s the guy I want to be for the team. I just want to be the best me possible and God will work out the rest.”

On the defensive side, Bracy is putting emphasis on learning everything he can possible about the defense.

“I lave to learn this playbook and I have to know the ins out and outs of it all,” he said. “As a safety, you’re the shot caller, so I need to be able to have the 10 other guys out there be able to trust everything I’m saying. I want to know my role and expand my role and perform it to the best of my ability.

“I think (defensive coordinator Greg) Gasparato will put the best 11 guys on the field and whoever that is, I’ll know my role from that point and ball out.”

Cattledge may be stepping into some of the biggest shoes that need to be filled in the history of the Troy football program. Cattledge plays inside linebacker and is vying to replace one of the spots left by seniors Carlton Martial and KJ Robertson. Cattledge said that he saw what Martial meant to the Troy program and hopes to be able to follow in his footsteps.

“That guy made so many tackles. When he set the (NCAA) record, I said I want to be like that,” Cattledge said with a smile. “I want to be a team player and help the defense however I can to get to a conference championship.”

Cutts has the opportunity to play alongside some of the best pass rushers in the entire country in defensive end TJ Jackson and bandit edge rushers Richard Jibunor and Javon Solomon, all of them All-Sun Belt performers.
“It’s been good playing with them and just picking up little things from them,” said Cutts. “They’ve been helping me with certain things like footwork and stuff like that. It’s been really good playing with them so far.”

Troy receiver Landon Parker makes a touchdown grab during practice. (Photos by Josh Boutwell)

Parker is in a unique situation competing for a spot in the rotation at receiver along with being the lone player on the Troy roster with experience punting. Parker was an FCS All-American punter along with being an All-Conference receiver. While the Trojan coaching staff expects to add a punter to the roster during the summer, Parker is currently filling that role.

“I didn’t expect (to be punting) when I got here, so that was a little shocking,” Parker said. “I love punting, though, so I’m happy to be back there helping the team out anyway I can.

“I want to be an older guy on the team that can help be a leader and try to make the starting squad (as a receiver). I just need to keep working hard and my goal this year is to catch every ball that’s thrown my way. All-Conference is always a goal but as a team, I want us to win the conference.”

A conference championship was another common theme among the new faces on the roster.

“My goal this year is to help the team become conference champs again,” Cutts flatly said. “I just want to be a player that the team can count on and help get another championship.”

That goal starts in the spring and will continue on through Troy’s annual T-Day Game on April 15 at Veterans Memorial Stadium where Trojan fans will get their first chance to see the new faces in action alongside the Sun Belt Champion’s returning veterans.