By David Fong
TROY — Matt Burgbacher tried for weeks to keep Sam Jackson on the freshman football team.
Jackson, however, simply would not be denied.
Jackson became one of just a handful of freshman in recent Troy football history to see varsity action last week when he made his debut against Xenia. He acquitted himself well, carrying the ball 13 times for 39 yards and leading the team in receiving with six catches for 81 yards, including a 38-yard reception that set up a touchdown.
He also saw time on defense, recording six tackles.
“In general, I like keeping my freshman teams together; I don’t really like bringing up a freshman to varsity,” Burgbacher said. “Sam is a good athlete and a good football player. But I’m not going to bring a kid up to varsity as a freshman just because he is good. He’s got to ‘earn’ his way on varsity, to to speak. Sam has done that.”
Jackson earned a spot on the varsity roster not only through his ability, but through his hard work in practice and the way he carries himself in the classroom and community, Burgbacher said.
“The freshman practice right next to us, so I’ve been able to watch Sam in practice every day,” Burgbacher said. “He’s a kid who works hard in practice every day. That’s not to say other kids don’t work hard, but they may not be physically ready the way Sam is. He’s kind of combination of both — he’s earned his way, plus he’s physically ready to play varsity. I wouldn’t have put Sam on varsity if I didn’t think he was ready.”
Burgbacher said not only will Jackson give the Trojans some much-needed depth at running back, but he’ll allow the team to do more with multiple-back sets.
“He definitely gives us an added dimension on offense,” Burgbacher said. “What he can do will open some things up for other kids.”
• Back on Track: Junior Hayden Kotwica already etched his name into the school record books in the season opener — but he added his name again last Friday against Xenia and put himself back on track to break one of the most legendary marks in school history.
In the season opener, he completed a 97-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Jackson, breaking the record of 94 yards set by quarterback Richard Vorpe and Tom Calloway set in 1963.
Against the Buccaneers, Kotwica threw for five touchdown passes, tying the school record set by Tom Myers. The legendary Myers actually did it four times: once in a 74-0 win over Belmont in 1959 and three times in 1960 — a 58-0 win over Stivers, a 62-0 win over Piqua and a 52-0 win over Xenia.
Kotwica also threw for 322 yards against the Bucs, putting him back on pace to break Myers’ single-season passing yardage mark of 2,009 yards, which he threw for in 1960.
After throwing for just 80 yards against Wayne in Week 4, Kotwica had fallen slightly off pace. With his big night against Xenia, however, Kotwica has now completed 76 of 142 passes for 1,113 yards. If he can keep up the current place, Kotwica will throw for 2,226 yards this season. Kotwica also has thrown 13 touchdown passes this season — the single-season school record is 28, set by Myers in 1960.
Following his graduation from Troy, Myers went on to become an All-American at Northwestern University and play for the NFL’s Detroit Lions.
• Also in the Hunt: With Kotwica putting up so many passing yards, it probably should come as no surprise that some Trojans receivers could be in the mix for some records at the end of the season, too.
Senior Luke Robinson leads the team in receiving with 22 catches for 337 yards, while junior Hayden Jackson isn’t far behind with 14 catches for 328 yards. That puts Robinson on pace to finish the season with 674 receiving yards at the end of the season and Jackson on pace to finish with 356.
The school’s single-season receiving yardage record is 703, set by Tom Vaughn — Myers’ favorite target — in 1959, putting Robinson and Jackson at least in the hunt to chase one of Troy’s most hallowed marks.
Following his graduation from Troy, Vaughn would become an All-American at Iowa State University and would join Myers in playing for the Detroit Lions.
• Homecoming Night: Friday’s game against Greenville at Troy Memorial Stadium will be the annual homecoming game for the Trojans.
Burgbacher said he’s not particularly worried about the accompanying distractions.
“Homecoming is only a distraction if you let it be a distraction,” he said. “We want the kids to embrace this opportunity. We are telling them if they can come out and win this game, it will only make homecoming that much more memorable.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong