By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — Questions surround the Troy football team coming into the new season.
The Trojans are more than ready to start answering them.
Troy kicked off the official beginning of practice season with its first two-a-day Thursday at Troy High School. And with a new head coach, a handful of returning starters and a virtual army of players, both experienced veterans and talented youngsters alike, competing for starting positions for the upcoming regular season, the three-time defending division champion Trojans just want the chance to prove themselves once again.
“People say that there’s no way you can be that good when you lose that many starters,” said Brayden Siler, a returning senior and last year’s starting quarterback. “But we’ve got a next-guy-up mentality.”
And that mentality will serve the Trojans well as they enter the season on a run of three straight division titles and three straight trips to the postseason. Plenty has changed, though, as the team will not only enter a new league — the newly-formed Miami Valley League — but it enters the preseason with Dan Gress taking over as head coach, as well as looking to replace seven graduated starters on offense and nine on defense.
None of that means expectations have changed, though.
“These kids are ready to go out and do whatever they can to put themselves, to put this team, in the best position to go after another league title and another playoff run,” Gress said. “We have high expectations. We’re not afraid to share that with the kids, and the kids aren’t afraid to set that expectation for themselves.
“New starters, new coaches — but that standard’s not dropping. If anything, we’re trying to set that standard to another level.”
The Trojans couldn’t have asked for a better day to begin two-a-days, either, with a cool Thursday morning instead of the heat wave that marked the 10 summer practice days in June and July — days the team put to use preparing for this preseason.
“When you have 10 camp days, at the end of those you’re always feeling good and crisp and in a nice routine,” Gress said. “So now we’re getting back out here, first practice, to dust the cobwebs off. But what I liked to see was that we did not have to dust much off — we’ve got guys out here that are going to compete to be the best, guys fighting for their positions. That is one thing we did not have to pick up — we hit the ground running right off the bat today.”
Fortunately, Troy does have veteran players that have been through it all before to help ease the transition into the dog days of summer for the younger players.
“It’s great,” Siler said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys out here, and it’s nice showing them what to do, how to do it and seeing them improve every day. We’re looking good right now. Everybody is working every day. We can have depth and have everyone putting the work in. And when you have older guys willing to lead the younger guys, it helps a lot.”
And even though he is taking on more of an overall leadership role than he saw in the past, Siler said he isn’t feeling any additional pressure or weight on his shoulders.
“No, not necessarily. It just comes easy to me,” Siler said. “I just want to bring out the best in everyone else around me. It’s not like something I have to force myself to do. It’s just natural, and I’m ready to do it.”
Arguably the biggest position battle to watch in the preseason will be the running back spot as the Trojans look to replace record-setting back Jaydon Culp-Bishop. One of the early favorites coming out of summer camp is senior Kevin Walters, who is the Trojans’ second-leading returning rusher from last season after Siler. And he said he is ready to prove himself, as well.
“It’s definitely a bigger workload for me,” Walters said. “Training in the offseason, I’ve been doing a lot of outside training so when we have breaks I’m not sitting at home laying around. I’m out doing extra work and really trying to better myself so we can be better as a team.”
And, like Siler, Walters isn’t trying to dwell on the possibilities or put extra pressure on himself.
“My sophomore and junior years, I thought I’d be able to play more — especially last year. But I never really got that chance to go out there and show what I could do,” Walters said. “It’s definitely interesting this year.
“I’m not worrying about it. I just do what I do. When it comes to competition, I give it my all, but I try not to think too hard about it. I just do my thing, and whatever happens happens.”
Regardless, everyone was in agreement — it was good to be back on the football field.
“When you wake up in the morning, there’s nothing better than Ohio high school football, feeling that cool breeze in the morning right before it gets hot. And there’s nothing better than Troy football,” Gress said. “It’s nice to get out here and officially be back in the swing of things.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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