LAGRANGE – The 2015 season wasn’t much fun for the Troup Tigers.
With an inexperienced roster and a mostly brand-new coaching staff, it figured to be a challenging season for the Tigers, and it was.
Troup dropped its first nine games, and it avoided a winless season by beating Whitewater in the regular-season finale.
On the brink of a new season, the Tigers are feeling a whole lot better about themselves and their prospects.
Head coach Tanner Glisson is now in his second season as head coach, and he has the staff in place that he has wanted since Day 1.
While there is still plenty of inexperience on the team, it is a talented roster, and the players have benefited from participating in Glisson’s offseason strength and conditioning program for a year.
Now, the only thing left for the Tigers to do is go out and win some ballgames, and they’ll try to start doing that today when they visit Kinnett Stadium to take on the Hardaway Hawks.
While the outlook is no doubt a lot sunnier than it was a year ago, Glisson also knows there aren’t many players on the team who have had a whole lot of success over the years.
“The biggest thing I’m worried about is confidence. Where is our confidence?,” Glisson said. “We know we’re better. But there’s still going to be a little doubt in their minds. We have to see how we handle that. Right now we feel real good about ourselves, but we haven’t played a game yet. We want to play a game.”
Glisson said very few of the players on the roster have experienced winning on any level, whether it’s at Troup or in middle school.
“They don’t know how to win. They don’t know how to get to that point,” Glisson said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. Now we have to go learn how to win on Friday.”
Glisson will be relying heavily on some gifted, yet untested players to play major roles this fall.
Quarterback Montez Crowe did start the season finale a year ago, but he still saw limited playing time a year ago.
On defense, sophomore linebacker King Mwikuta has received all sorts of interests from big-time college programs, but he has yet to appear in a varsity game.
A number of other players on both sides of the ball will be getting their first significant varsity playing time as well.
With that in mind, Glisson said it’ll be critical for the veterans, for the men who have been there before, to lead the way.
That includes Camren Russell, Ken Truitt and Chanse Hill on offense, and Macenta Stafford and Jarred Lane on defense.
“We need guys like Ken Truitt, and Camren Russell, who have been there, to play well,” Glisson said. “Because they’re going to have to help some of these younger guys.”
Here’s a look at this year’s team:
Junior quarterback Montez Crowe will be handed the reins.
In the Tigers’ lone win last season, Crowe had a big night and showed he’s capable of handling the pressure of a Friday night under the lights.
“I’m really, really pleased with Montez Crowe,” Glisson said. “The offense right now that we’re running at this point, is what we envisioned it would be. He has done a really good job of putting himself in position to make reads, to get us as coaches out of bad plays. When we call bad plays, he’ll change it at the line of scrimmage.”
Offensive coordinator Kelby Holt said Crowe has done everything it takes to be a successful quarterback.
“He’s developing,” Holt said. “He’s going to take what you say, and he’s going to learn it. He’s always here on time. He works hard in the weight room. He does all the little things right, just to make himself better. He doesn’t take it for granted like a lot of kids do.”
While Crowe only started one game last year, he still got plenty of time on the field, and he’s now had plenty of time to absorb Holt’s offense.
“I’ve had a year of it,” Crowe said. “Last year, everybody was new to it, and I got beat out. But this year, since I’ve got a year of experience, I think we’ll be doing good.”
One of Troup’s top offensive play-makers will be Russell, who led the team in average yards per touch last season.
“He’s one of those guys that’s been tested, so we need him to play well,” Glisson said. “He’s been in the fire.”
Senior Ken Truitt, who has played multiple positions during his time at Troup, will also be a key to the offense this season as a wide receiver.
Jackson Davis and Kevin Martin will also get plenty of carries from the running-back position this season, and seniors Chanse Hill and Jack Schweizer bring plenty of experience to the wide-receiver position.
One of the offensive players to watch this season will be freshman Kobe Hudson, a quarterback who was a dynamic player on the middle-school level.
“Kobe Hudson is probably the most talented person we have on this football team, as a freshman,” Glisson said. “And he’s never played on a Friday. We need the other guys to play well to ease some of the anxiety of the younger guys.”
Crowe, even knowing Hudson could eventually be a competitor for his job, said he has been there for his younger teammate.
“It’s not just about me,” Crowe said. “It’s about Troup.”
On the offensive line, Brandon Barronton is the only returning starter, although he’s moving from guard to tackle.
“He’s the only starter returning on the offensive line, and he needs to play well, even though he’s at a different position,” Glisson said.
Ethan Short played a lot last season on defense, but this year he is moving to the offensive line.
Tim Huguley, Keshawn Cameron, Brandon Turner and Colby Harry figure to fill out the offensive line.
“If they can stay healthy, it’s a fun group,” Glisson said. “I think by midseason, they’ve got a chance to be pretty decent. And they’re a very smart group.”
As for Barronton, the leader of that group, there’s nowhere on the field he’d rather be.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t want to play another position,” Barronton said. “I love it. You’re right there. You’re in the trenches. You’re hitting somebody every play. If it wasn’t for us, nothing else would happen.”
A year ago, Barronton was a part of a veteran offensive line that featured a number of seniors, including multi-year starter Hudson Newton.
It’s a relatively new group this season, and Barronton is being called upon to be a leader on the line, and he’s fine with that.
“I like the pressure of it,” he said. “It’s fun.”
One of the big changes on the Troup defense is on the coaching staff.
The team has a new defensive coordinator in Micah Alba, a new linebackers coach in Tripp Busby, and a new defensive-line coach in J.C. Copeland, who was a former standout player at Troup.
“The biggest thing is that we’re so much better-coached on defense,” Glisson said. “Our offensive staff stayed in tact for the most part. Defense, we’re coached much, much better. We’re able to break it down, with me and J.C. doing defensive line, coach Busby doing linebackers, and coach (Tori) Smith and Alba on the back end. Those are pretty dang good coaches. That’s three former defensive coordinators. So that’s pretty good.”
Glisson said there is plenty of room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
“We had to be one of the worst defenses in the state of Georgia,” Glisson said. “We were terrible. And we gave up too many explosive plays. What we’re trying to work on is, don’t give up the explosive plays. I don’t think right now we’re ready to stuff you and shut anybody out. But we’ve got to make them earn it. We can’t play real good for three plays, and give up a big play. We have to be consistent. We have to make sure we tackle well.”
Jarred Lane will be one of the leaders from his inside linebacker position.
“He was one of the bright spots (last year),” Glisson said. “He played defensive line for us, and now he’s at inside linebacker.”
The other three projected starting linebackers are all sophomores, and that includes Mwikuta, who has become a highly-recruited players despite his limited experience.
“He has not played a varsity game, but he’s got all the potential,” Glisson said.
Mwikuta, who has grown about three inches and added around 30 pounds since last summer, has drawn interest from some of the country’s top programs, including Alabama and Georgia, and he already has a whole bunch of offers on the table.
Mwikuta has visited with Georgia head coach Kirby Smart multiple times, and he has sat down with Alabama’s Nick Saban as well.
That’s heady stuff for a player who, a year ago, was on no one’s radar outside of the Troup High camp.
“Blowing up and getting this, it’s an experience,” Mwikuta said. “I just thank my coaches for it, my family, my grandma. I think all of them for it. I love them, I appreciate it, and I’m thankful for everything they’ve done. And I hope in the future we have a good season.”
As grateful as Mwikuta is for the attention from colleges, he knows he still has everything to prove on a football field, and he’s ready to do it.
“Like coach (Tanner Glisson) said, it’s based on my potential,” Mwikuta said. “That’s why I got all these offers. As of now, I haven’t played one down of varsity football. Not one down. But, I think I can’t just can’t get a big head about this. I get offers, and I tell them I appreciate it and I hope to see you in the future.”
Kevin Martin and Nick Ligon are the other two sophomores who will play linebacker.
Glisson said the responsibility that Lane has will be even greater because of the inexperience at linebacker.
“He’s a senior, so he’s got to play well, because you’re surrounded by three sophomores,” Glisson said.
On the defensive line, senior Dre Flagg has seen significant playing time in the past, albeit from the linebacker position.
“We did the opposite with him and Lane,” Glisson sid. “We put (Flagg’s) hand in the dirt. We felt like that fit him better.”
Another key defensive player will be defensive back Macenta Stafford, who was an honorable mention all-region player last year.
“He was one of the key bright spots in the secondary,” Glisson said. “He’s got to play well.”
Glisson said Hill and Truitt, who will both play a lot on offense, will get plenty of snaps on defense as well.
“One thing we’re still searching for on defense is that leader, that dude,” Glisson said. “And we need somebody like a Lane, or a Stafford, to really be that dude. Offensively, I think we’ve got that. You’ve got some leadership.”
In the kicking game, junior Carson Wreyford showed off his range when he made a pair of field goals during the spring game, and Brantly Robinson did an excellent job as Troup’s punter last season.
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports
Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News