By David Fong
TROY — Sam Jackson is a young, talented safety on the Troy football team.
So good is Jackson that Trojan coach Matt Burgbacher frequently forgets how young he is — but never forgets just how talented the sophomore strong safety truly is.
“Sometimes I do forget he’s just a sophomore,” Burgbacher said. “The other day, someone asked me how many sophomores we’ve got playing for us right now and I went through the entire list and forgot Sam. He’s been with us for so long now, in my mind, he’s a junior.”
Jackson was brought up to the varsity level midway through last season as a freshman. He was inserted as the starter at safety from Day 1 of this season. He certainly hasn’t played like a sophomore, in particular the past two weeks. He’s recorded five interceptions in two games — three against Butler two weeks ago and two against Sidney last week.
“He’s such a good kid; he’s a coachable kid,” Burgbacher said. “He’ll do whatever we need him to do.”
Burgbacher said it’s not often a sophomore — let alone a freshman — is able to play varsity football, particularly at a school the size of Troy.
“When I was coaching at Fort Loramie, we probably had one or two freshmen every year who we could bring up to varsity,” he said. “But at a school the size of Troy or in a league the like GWOC (Greater Western Ohio Conference), the number of freshmen you see playing varsity is few and far between. It’s just a different set of dynamics. Not only do you need someone who is physically ready, but someone who is mentally ready, too.
“There’s a huge jump you have to be able to make going from junior high football to freshman football. Then there’s a big difference between freshman football and junior varsity football. And there’s a big different between paying JV football on Saturday mornings and playing varsity football 0n Fridays under the lights.”
Burgbacher said Jackson is one of the select few who was able to make the leap from freshman football straight to varsity.
“We knew about him,” Burgbacher said. “We saw him in the freshman games. We knew what he was capable of.”
Jackson is one of a number of sophomores seeing significant playing time for the Trojans this season, joining tight end Spencer Klopfenstein, receiver Kobe Feltner, linebacker Shane Shoop and noseguard Gage Forsythe.
It’s not hard to find Burgbacher several hours before kickoff on Friday nights … just check the Troy Memorial Stadium showers.
“It’s just something I do before every game,” he said. “I like to shower before every game. “
Burgbacher readily admits he is very superstitious and like to follow the same routine before every game, home or away.
“I was superstitious as a player, too,” he said. “I would always wear the same things and follow the same routine. As a coach, I think I’m even more superstitious. I don’t know if it’s part of the aging process or what. I’ll war the same socks for every game. When I was at Fort Loramie, I wore the same pair of khakis for every game. When I came to Troy, I got a new pair of khakis I wore for every game. When we went 2-8 last year, I went back to wearing the same khakis I wore when I was at Fort Loramie.
“If I’m nervous before a game, I’ll play a couple of games of solitaire on my phone. It relaxes me and gets my mind off of things. I’ve found that’s my happy place. If things get out of whack and I’m not able to follow a routine, mentally I’m off. I like being in my comfort zone.”
That mental aspect, Burgbacher said, is the biggest reason he’s superstitious and chooses to follow set routines. He doesn’t think games are won or lost based on what shirt he happens to be wearing, but he does feel as though it’s important to be mentally prepared for every game — and following a routine allows he and his team to do just that.
“I’m never worried about our kids physically,” he said. “We’ve been getting physically ready for the season since December in our offseason workouts. We still lift three times a week during the season. Physically, I never worry about our kids being ready. I’m worried about them getting mentally ready to play. If they have something that relaxes them and gets them mentally ready to play, that’s what I want them doing. We want to take as much stress as possible off of the kids.
“I couldn’t tell you anything specific, but I know we have kids on this team who are superstitious. At the beginning of the season, we issued socks to all of our kids — we wanted every kid wearing the same kind of socks. Now here we are eight weeks into the season and some of those socks are getting a little raggedy. But do you think I’m suddenly going to change our socks in Week 9? That’s not going to happen.”
Trojan quarterback passed a major career milestone in last week’s win over Sidney. By throwing for 273 yards against the Yellowjackets, he’s now thrown for 4,181 yards in his career, becoming just the second player in school history to throw for more than 4,000 yards.
Trojan legend Tommy Myers — who went on to become and All-American at Northwestern and play for the NFL’s Detroit Lions — threw for more than 5,000 yards in his career.
This season Kotwica has completed 84 of 144 passes for 1,385 yards. Last season, he threw for a school-record 2,021 yards. He’s just the third quarterback in school history to throw for 1,000 or more yards in a season twice, joining Myers and Cody May.
By topping the 200-yard mark against Sidney, Kotwica has now thrown for 200 or more yards in four games this season. He also did it against Cincinnati Northwest (257 yards), Miamisburg (206) and Butler (271).
He also threw for 200 or more yards in a game four times last year, doing it against Chaminade Julienne (214), Miamisburg (296), Xenia (324) and Butler (a school-record 421 yards).
While Kotwica has hit a number of milestones this year, senior tailback Josh Browder remains in search of one. Browder has 118 carries for 857 yards this season — 143 shy of the 1,000-yard mark. After rushing for 100 or more yards in four consecutive games, both Butler and Sidney loaded the box to stop the run the past two weeks, as Browder was held to 50 and 59 rushing yards, respectively in those games.
He’ll need to average 71.5 rushing yards the final two weeks of the regular season against Greenville and Piqua to top the 1,000-yard mark. Troy also is line for a playoff game, which would give Browder at least one more shot to reach 1,000 yards for the season.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong