The Troup Tigers won’t officially open their season for another two weeks, but they’ll get to take a practice run tonight.
Troup will be on the road against Upson-Lee for a preseason game, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m.
Troup will play its regular-season opener on Aug. 29 against LaGrange.
“We’re looking forward to going over (to Upson-Lee), and coming back and evaluating what we have,” said Lynn Kendall, who is heading into his third season as Troup’s head coach.
It will be similar to past years in that the starters will play about a half, with the reserves getting on the field in the second half.
There will be one major difference this year, though.
“We’re going to do a few things in that scrimmage that we haven’t done in the past,” Kendall said. “For one, most of the special teams will be live. We both agreed to do that.”
Upson-Lee went 4-6 a year ago, and it closed the season on a four-game losing streak.
The Knights will be under the direction of a new coach this year, with former Harris County head coach Tommy Parks taking over.
Parks is a native of Thomaston, and he is coming off two extremely successful seasons at Harris County.
“That’ll be a good team for us to scrimmage,” Kendall said. “They’ll be big and physical. They’re going to be motivated, excited.”
Troup is coming off a 6-5 season that ended with a loss to Gilmer County in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
Troup was 2-4 at one point, but it closed the regular season on a four-game winning streak, and that included a third win in four years over LaGrange.
The Tigers are feeling good about their prospects of making another nice run this season.
Like every team, there are players who need to be replaced.
Troup was hit especially hard by graduation on the defensive side of the ball, and the offense lost some key players as well, including running back Daryl Dunlap.
With the players the Tigers have coming back, though, and with some other talented players ready for more playing time, hopes are high.
One of the players coming back is quarterback Will Smith, who is heading into his third season as a starter.
“Everybody’s been working hard. Everybody has a good mentality,” Smith said. “I think we’ll do pretty good this season, make a good playoff run.”
Smith has the luxury of playing behind a veteran offensive line that includes four starters from a year ago.
Included in that group is Mitch Mathes, a four-year starter who has committed to Mercer.
Tristan Thompson, Jason Hernandez and Hudson Newton also return on the offensive line.
Dre Towns, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season, is set to be the featured back, and Kendall said wide receiver Tremayne Tolbert could be poised for a breakout season.
While the Tigers will be a run-oriented team, they have the ability to get it done through the air with Smith at the helm.
“I’m always trying to get more passing,” Smith said with a grin.
The Tigers were a senior-oriented defense a year ago, and that means there will be a lot of new starters this season on that side of the ball.
Among the veterans is senior defensive back Vanquez Bonner, who will also get some snaps on offense as a running back.
Bonner, knowing he was going to be a senior leader on this year’s team, has strived to set a great example for the younger players.
“I’ve tried to be a leader all summer, let everybody know you’ve got to work hard,” Bonner said. “We know they’re looking up to us.”
Another one of the senior leaders on defense is Saye Sanders, also a defensive back.
Sanders said he has tried to help the backup players be as prepared as possible in case their number is called.
“I try to help all the players at my position,” Sanders said. “What if I get hurt? I want somebody who can step in and do better than me. That’s how I am. We’re a team. It’s not everybody for themselves.”
Along with Bonner and Sanders, Emmanuel Trammell and Hunter Mowers give the Tigers some major weapons in the secondary.
“That group of players, they had a good summer. I think they’re hungry,” Kendall said. “They want to prove something. And that’s good. You need a little edge.”
Troup was hit hardest by graduation on the defensive line.
“We graduated our entire front, and they all signed scholarships. They’re all in camps now,” Kendall said. “On the flip side of that is, they’re somewhere else now. You have to find someone else to fit in. I’m hoping those players that were behind them really realize the opportunity that has opened up.”
Among the players Kendall will be counting on to fill that void on the defensive line is O.J. Zeigler.
“He’s a senior. We’re expecting big things out of him,” Kendall said. “He’s got a lot of strength, and O.J. has a lot of speed. He can really turn it on. We’re expecting a lot out of him. It’s a great opportunity for him to shine this year.”
Another senior, Justice Marable, will also get his chance to play on the defensive line this season.
“It’s their time,” Kendall said. “They’ve worked hard this summer, done a good job.”
The Tigers are also having to replace some talented linebackers from last year’s team, including Dunlap, who was a sensational two-way player.
Kendall likes the players who will be manning that position, though, including junior Eli Patrick, who had a strong showing in the school’s Steel Tiger competition in July.
Kendall said Darrell Craw, Austin Carter, Jonathan Foster and David Brown are other linebackers with a lot of promise.
Kendall said his message to those players is “it’s your time. It’s your opportunity to step up. We’re challenging them.”
In the kicking game, Troup has Michael Young back at place kicker, and Smith is the punter.
Kendall said all of the kickers have been working hard, including three freshmen he believes have a lot of promise.
“They have a good time,” Kendall said. “They have good camaraderie with each other, and they also compete against each other, which I really like.”