Trojans gear up for T-Day

Published 11:04 am Thursday, April 13, 2023

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On Thursday, the Troy Trojans held the final practice of spring before this Saturday’s T-Day scrimmage.

Returning starting quarterback Gunnar Watson liked the bounce back from the offense off the heels of a practice earlier this week that maybe didn’t start off great.

“I thought it was pretty good,” Watson said of Thursday’s practice. “It was a shorter practice but I felt like we started off fast and two days ago we definitely didn’t do that. We got better today, so that’s the most important thing.”

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Troy Coach Jon Sumrall has been pleased what he’s seen from his team throughout the spring.

“There’s been a lot of good on both sides of the ball and the kicking game,” Sumrall emphasized. “I’ve liked the competitiveness in all areas and we’re a lot more balanced team than maybe we were last year.

“Last year, I knew we had a pretty good defense but this year we’ve gone back and forth. One side may get the better of a certain drill, so there’s a lot more give and take.”

One of the biggest improvements this spring has been from the offensive line despite losing key starters from the 2022 team.

“I think our offensive line continues to improve and grow and the depth is what sticks out,” Sumrall said. “I think we’ve got probably eight guys I feel like are pushing to figure out who can play and who can play at what level. So, I like where we’re going there but we still need a lot of improvement.

“I like the quarterback room, that’s moving in the right direction, and the receivers are doing good. Defensively, we’re missing a few pieces that are still out with some lingering (health) issues from last year. When we get those guys back it’ll be more exiting to watch the defense play.”

Watson said he feels that the veteran presence on the offensive side has been the biggest benefit this spring.

“I think you have some veteran guys back and that’s a big deal,” said Watson. “We know the offense pretty well. So, guys like Marcus Rogers, Jabre (Barber), a couple of the offensive linemen, Kimani (Vidal) and Jamontez (Woods) are guys that are back, so I think that’s been pretty good for us. I think that’s what has helped us a lot, having those veteran guys that know the playbook and know what to do.”

Senior bandit Richard Jibunor has liked what he’s seen from the defense this spring, as well.

“We’ve been known to be a really good run defense, so we’re trying to maintain that and make it even better,” Jibunor said of what he’s seen from the defense this spring. “We’re trying to be a defense that can also bring a lot of pressure to opposing quarterbacks and any offensive line we face. We’re working a lot on our linebackers, we lost a lot of really good players but we have a lot of good players that came in, too. We’re trying to form that chemistry as a defense that we’ve always had.”

Jibunor emphasized that building that chemistry between the Trojan veterans and newcomers has been an important goal this spring.

“We’re just continuing to try and build that chemistry,” he said. “We lost some of those guys but we have some guys like (Steven) Cattledge, Keyshawn (Campbell) and Reggie (Bracy) that are very good. Those guys are doing phenomenal. Zach (Edwards) in the defensive line room has been great. The coaches did a really good job recruiting.”

On Saturday, the Trojans will strap up the pads for the T-Day spring game, which will see the starting offense team up with the No. 2 defense against the starting defense and No. 2 offense on the other side, which will mean the starters will play against each other. One side will wear black jerseys and the other side will wear white. There will be 15-minute running quarters and the kicking game won’t be live. Every kicker will get an opportunity to kick whenever there is a field goal or PAT situation. The defense will also have a chance to put some points on the board with turnovers and creating negative plays.

“We’re looking forward to seeing everybody on Saturday,” Sumrall said. “Our guys feed off our fan base and our fan base does a great job of supporting our guys. We’d love to see as many people out there as possible. I think it’ll be a good environment and fun opportunity to watch what this version of Troy Football looks like. It’s a very different team.”

Sumrall said the biggest thing about T-Day is seeing competition from his team.

“I just want to see them compete at a high level and go back-and-forth,” he said. “I want our guys to make plays and execute. Last year, we were still trying to get in and out of the huddle and operate with tempo and things like that, offensively. Defensively, we were trying to figure out what our identity was and what we’re going to lean on from a base call standpoint.

“We have a better feel for that now and our guys should know the systems better, so I want to see them go out and play fast and physical and confident and compete and play clean.”

For the offense, Watson said it would be all about keeping the mistakes to a minimum.

“Starting off fast and not getting into those third-and-long situations, and when we do get into those situations we need to convert and do what we have to do,” Watson said. “That’s the biggest thing, not shooting ourselves in the foot and staying onside and not getting penalties.”

While Sumrall didn’t want to single out any particular players he’ll be watching out for on Saturday, he said that there were a number of guys that are currently pushing for more playing time.

“A good number of guys that are not what you would consider starters right now are pushing for that,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to single out one guy but I think there are a number of guys like that. If you want to move up, you have to make a move. Saturday is sort of the last opportunity to do that for the spring until we get into training camp. There are a lot of guys that will be fun to watch on Saturday.”

The offense is ready to show off the improvements that Sumrall and his staff have been raving about this spring, according to Watson.

“I’m ready for it,” Watson flatly said. “I think it’ll be fun and I think there’ll be a pretty good amount of people there. I think the offense will put on a show.”

T-Day kicks off Saturday at 2 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Stadium and admission is free.