By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — Dan Gress is used to coaching Troy football practices.
Leading them, though, has been a new experience this year.
The Trojans kicked off their summer practice schedule with three days of workouts in the final week of June, practicing June 24-26 to shake off the cobwebs of the offseason and get back on the football field. And for Gress, who is beginning his first season as Troy’s head coach after three seasons as an assistant, the chance to adjust before full-time workouts begin in August is a welcome one.
“The biggest thing is the prep work before practice,” Gress said when asked what the differences were. “I personally take it on myself to make sure that we’re maximizing all of our time and putting our kids in the best positions to compete during practice, to get better during practice and to utilize our time. We don’t want to be out there for three hours plus just practicing to practice. So that’s the biggest thing.
“It’s always nice to get the boys out and get that taste of of football, to get them excited, and also to get you adjusted. As much strength and conditioning we do and how well our program is running, there’s nothing like getting into football shape. We used these three days to get started and adjusted before we head into our big stretch in July.”
Gress was Troy’s defensive line coach and special teams coordinator for the past three seasons under Matt Burgbacher, who left Troy following last season to coach at Tippecanoe. And as the man at the top of the coaching chain of command is different yet familiar, Gress’ entire coaching staff will have a familiar feel this season.
On offense, Scot Brewer and Gene Steinke return as assistants, with Brewer — himself a former Troy head coach — still coaching the offensive line and Steinke moving from running backs coach to wide receivers, which Burgbacher coached last season. Bryan Gray takes over as the running backs coach, while Jason McGaharan returns as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after serving as the team’s offensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016.
And on defense, Jason Manson, who coaches the outside linebackers last year, will take over for Burgbacher’s father Charlie as defensive coordinator and also coach the inside linebackers, while Troy graduate Marcus Foster will take over the outside linebackers. Ben Merkert will return as the defensive backs coach, newcomer Jay Cannell will assist with the offensive and defensive lines, Gress will maintain his duties with the defensive line and special teams and Aaron Gibbons remains the team’s strength and conditioning coach.
“I’m blessed with the assistant coaches I have,” Gress said. “I know the offense, with (offensive coordinator) coach (Jason) McGaharan is going to be flying on all cylinders. I know the defense, under (defensive coordinator) coach (Jason) Manson, is going to be in the right positions, ready to make plays. So I was looking forward to practice, to getting back into the trenches with my defensive line and just coach football.”
And once the players got down to playing football, everyone liked what they saw.
“We coaches overall are very pleased with how practice went,” Gress said. “Personally, myself, I came in with goals, and we coaches came in with goals of what we wanted to see out of the team. And No. 1 that we wanted to see was the guys coming out and competing. Competing and giving their best effort. If I saw those two things, I was going to be happy with how things went.
“And the last main thing we were looking for was what kind of teammates they were going to be. Our big buzz word with them is being ‘elite,’ and I wanted to see if we were going to be elite teammates, if we were going to love each other, pick each other up and support each other while competing. And we saw all three of those things. When we got down to team competition, kids were flying around, and that was the No. 1 thing we wanted to see.”
In recent years, Troy has seen plenty of success.
Since 2010, the Trojans have gone 54-43, including five trips to the playoffs: back-to-back years in 2010 and 2011, and then three straight from 2016-2018 leading up to this coming season. In the past three seasons, Troy has gone a combined 28-5, winning three straight division championships and winning a pair of playoff games, one in 2016 and another in 2018.
Gress and the Trojans know that 2018 will be a tough act to follow, but they don’t mind. They’re determined to do just that.
“Obviously, we graduated a lot of seniors from last year — and a lot of really good seniors. But with that, we have a lot of young guys coming up that are ready to step up and take that challenge on,” Gress said. “We have a lot of people, a lot of players, with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders, ready to prove themselves. That class was a heck of a class and they’re going to be missed, but we have a lot of great players returning ready to step up.
“That was kind of the big motto for these three days, was to compete. That’s what us coaches wanted to see, and these players wanted to prove themselves already, to show that they’re ready for the challenge.”
The Trojans will use their remaining seven summer practice days between July 8-18. And even though they got a sneak peak last week, Gress and his assistant coaches will be watching more closely when summer practice begins again later this month.
“The biggest thing when we leave camp next month is are the boys going to be lined up in the right position ready to make a play,” Gress said. “We think that if our kids line up correctly, they’re in the right position, and they know how to get there and can play fast, that we have a pretty good chance this year. If we can leave camp with those things, we’ll feel pretty confident going into August and two-a-days.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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