Spring Guide: What to watch for at T-Day ‘23

Published 11:42 am Friday, April 14, 2023

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The Troy University football team suits up one last time this spring for the annual T-Day game this Saturday at 2 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Stadium and there are plenty of storylines for Trojan fans to look for going into the spring game.

Like last season, Troy will implement a unique spring game during T-Day with the No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense on one team and the No. 1 defense and No. 2 offense on the other. Some players will bounce between both teams. The defense can also score points with turnovers and negative plays, while all three kickers will get an opportunity for field goal and PATs.

A more explosive offense

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The Troy offense has been impressive during the spring, drawing praise from head coach Jon Sumrall throughout practices. Quarterback Gunnar Watson has worked on his athleticism and speed during the offseason and has looked in complete command of the Troy offense, while a deep running back rotation will offer the balance in the offensive attack that Sumrall wants.

A key difference this season in the offense will likely be the tempo at which it runs. Sumrall said he wants to see more up-tempo, fast-paced action this season and Troy fans will get their first glimpse of what that will look like during T-Day.

Holes to fill on the offensive line

Despite losing three starters – two of them All-Sun Belt contributors – Sumrall has been pleased with what he’s seen from the offensive line this spring and has said this year’s unit will be more deep than the 2022 version. There will likely be plenty of movement with offensive linemen switching between the Black and White teams during this game as the coaching staff attempts to find the best fit for the starting five group.

New defense, same tenacity

There are no bigger holes to fill on Troy’s 2023 lineup than the huge losses on the defensive end. All-Sun Belt defenders Will Choloh, KJ Robertson, Carlton Martial and Craig Slocum Jr. are all preparing for the NFL Draft currently. Despite those losses, Troy still returns a slew of starters, including All-Sun Belt players like Richard Jibunor, TJ Jackson, Dell Pettus, Javon Solomon and Reddy Steward.

Inside linebacker is one of the key positions on the Troy roster and both starters – Robertson and Martial – are gone now. With Jayden McDonald likely filling one of those roles this season, all attention turns to junior college (JUCO) transfer Steve Catteledge (East Mississippi CC), Terry Thomas and Jordan Stringer as they all vie for that other starting spot.

Troy’s relentless pass rush returns the majority of its veterans.

Plenty of fresh new faces

When watching spring practices this season it’s hard to miss all of the new faces that are running around Troy practices, and that’s not limited to players either. Troy is breaking in a pair of new assistant coaches in new defensive coordinator Greg Gasparato and offensive line coach Joe Bernardi. It just so happens that the majority of the new faces on the Troy roster are also being coached by those two. Sumrall said that a number of the veteran players that have been contributors in the program will likely see their snaps at T-Day limited as a lot of new – and younger – faces get a chance to shine.

On the offensive side, newcomers on the offensive line like transfers Eli Russ (Oklahoma State), offensive tackle Elijah Philipe (Lackawanna College) and guard MarKendrick Beall (Tyler Junior College) are names to watch out for. Wetumpka native Asa Martin (Memphis) has been making a splash at running back and should create an intriguing one-two punch with returning starter Kimani Vidal this season. At receiver, Troy has to replace the production of leading receiver Tez Johnson and RaJae Johnson and a couple of transfers in Chris Lewis (Kentucky) and Landon Parker (Wofford) will be fun to watch during the spring game. With injuries limiting a number of tight ends this spring, 6-foot-4-inch EMCC transfer Ethan Conner has been receiving plenty of attention.

While Watson is cemented as one of the leaders of the Troy offense, West Virginia quarterback Goose Crowder has been showing off his athleticism and strong arm during spring practices and will get plenty of opportunities to continue to do so at T-Day.

On defense, it’s not hard to spot transfer defensive end Raymond Cutts (Garden City CC) when he’s on the field. The 6-foot-3-inch, 260-pound bandit/defensive end is a quarterback’s worst nightmare and Troy fans will want to pay attention when No. 31 comes on the field. Cattledge has also been a standout in spring practices, while cornerback Damaje Yancey (Southern Utah) and safety Reggie Bracy (Iowa) also look to fill holes in the Troy defense.

Transfers aren’t the only new faces on the Troy roster as a number of incoming freshmen have already joined the team. Defensive end Ty’Quarius Perry (Birmingham), kicker Nick Troemel (Newnan, Ga.), linebacker Keyshawn Campbell (Vero Beach, Fla.) and quarterback JD Sherrod (Memphis, Tenn.) are among the true freshman that Troy fans should expect to see on Saturday.

Who will be the kicker?

That is a key question coming into the spring as starter Brooks Buce graduated last season. Troy native Scott Taylor Renfroe has been competing all spring with Troemel and Zach Long during the spring and Sumrall said all three will get opportunities during T-Day. Some may even get an opportunity to punt – along with Parker – as Troy currently has no dedicated punter on the roster.

The festivities surrounding T-Day don’t start and stop with the game itself, however. The day will kickoff with Lunch with Legends in the Stadium Club at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium at 11 a.m. followed by the Future Trojans Youth Football Clinic inside the stadium at noon and the Troy Athletics Yard Sale at 1 p.m. in the west concourse of the stadium. T-Day starts at 2 p.m. – with free admission – and the day is caped off at 7 p.m. with the Troy Sports Hall of Fame Banquet at Trojan Arena.