The Troy Trojans football team is in the midst of fall camp and preparing for another run at a conference title under head coach Neal Brown.
After claiming its first Sun Belt championship since 2010 last year, Troy has its sights set on capturing the first ever East division title and securing a spot in the conference’s first championship game.
Last year, the Trojans relied on a stout defense early on before the offense caught fire halfway through the season.
Despite losses at each level, the defense is still set to be one of the top units in the Sun Belt again.
Troy graduated all of its three starting defensive linemen but return a wealth of experienced depth. Instead of rebuilding, the Trojans are just retooling.
Noseguard Trevon Sanders is joined inside by Antoine Barker and Marcus Webb. The trio combined for 20 tackles for loss last year.
This group went five-deep last year and will at least go four-deep this season with the fall emergence of true freshman Will Choloh Jr.
“Will Choloh is a guy we’re going to get ready to play,” said Head Coach Neal Brown at Troy’s media day on Saturday. “We feel like he needs to play.”
Filling in for Seth Calloway at defensive end could be up to four different players.
Troy signed two junior college players in Jarvis Hayes and John Hines while returning Rasool Clemons and Kelvin Lucky. Hayes and Clemons are currently the top two options.
Linebackers will continue to be a point of strength with All-Conference bandit Hunter Reese back on the edge and 2017’s leading tackler Tron Folsom back at outside linebacker.
If you ask the coaches, though, they’ll tell you that redshirt freshman Carlton Martial is the team’s next big star.
Martial is currently the favorite to replace Sam Lebbie at linebacker and has followed up a strong spring with an equally impressive fall.
“He’s very physical and very explosive,” said defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. “He can go here to there in the blink of an eye. He’s got all the intangibles that you could ask for.”
The secondary has been a ball-hawking group under Koenning, and the defensive backs who are returning have a total of 20 career interceptions.
Senior Blace Brown is responsible for 11 of those interceptions, while Marcus Jones had two as a true freshman last year. Brown and Jones are locked in on the outside, while sophomore Terrance Dunlap has played his way into the third corner slot.
The leader of the defense and one of the Sun Belt’s top safeties is back in Cedarius Rookard, and he’ll have a new partner-in-crime in Oklahoma transfer Will Sunderland.
Sunderland joined the team late in the summer but already likes what he sees from the Troy defense.
“Here, everybody works together and has that brotherhood,” Sunderland said at media day. “Everybody wants to win. Everybody is trying to get better as a unit.”
While the defense may not have many question marks, the offense has a sizeable one in Brandon Silvers’ replacement.
Brown has yet to decide between junior Kaleb Barker and sophomore Sawyer Smith. The two are in locked in a battle that may not be decided until game time.
Nonetheless, Brown isn’t overly worried about the situation.
“I’m very excited about both quarterbacks,” Brown said. “People ask me what keeps me up at night. It’s not the quarterback situation that keeps me up.”
The competition has had a positive impact on Barker, who says it has bettered him in many ways.
“It’s made me a better person by far,” Barker said. “It’s made us both better and I’m excited about where we’re going.”
Whoever takes the first snap in game one will have a deep receiving corps at their disposal led by seniors Deondre Douglas and Damion Willis.
In the backfield, Troy is currently heading for a running back-by-committee approach led by Jamarius Henderson and BJ Smith.
The Trojans begin the 2018 season with a monumental test as they host the nationally ranked Boise State Broncos on September 1. The game will be broadcast on national television during primetime and will also mark the opening of the north endzone expansion.