Monday, April 30, 2012

Late Monday night links

Few things of interest for readers...

***The Sun Belt extended its relationship with the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile through 2017. The game will continue to match up a SBC team and a MAC team. This year's bowl is on Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. CST (don't like the the start time), and this is usually the bowl that matches up the Sun Belt's best against the MAC's best. It happened in 2009 with Troy and Central Michigan and last year with Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois. Though, the 09 game was Troy getting an at-large berth to the then-GMAC Bowl. My guess is that commissioner Karl Benson is trying to secure a third bowl bid for the league.

***Back to realignment, CBSSports is reporting that Texas State and UT-Arlington will join the Sun Belt in 2013. Texas State would be in all sports, and UTA in the Olympic sports. Texas State is in San Marcos and is 50 miles northeast of San Antonio and 30 miles southwest of Austin, along I-35. This would offset the expected losses of North Texas and FIU to Conference USA.

***Troy baseball (20-24) is on the road Tuesday night at 6 at Samford (29-16). Trojans beat Samford in Troy earlier this year and send junior RHP Cass Abercrombie (1-2, 4.80) to the mound.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Trojans take series over FAU

I should have gotten this updated earlier today, but I have spent the entire evening enthralled with the NBA Playoffs and watching Nick Young spearhead the Clippers into a 27-point comeback over the Grizzlies. Anywho...

Troy's baseball team had a great weekend, bouncing back from a Friday night loss and taking the Saturday and Sunday games over Florida Atlantic, who was and still is the Sun Belt's first place team. Ryan Brady had his best start on Sunday and he and Nate Hill combined to shut out FAU, 9-0. Thomas Austin, who is

Game 1 recap here and box here
Game 2 recap here and box here
Game 3 recap here and box here.

Unfortunately I couldn't get to any of the games with our busy high school schedule. It's even busier this coming week, but the good thing (for me, not those riding 450 miles in a bus) is that Troy is on the road this week, to Samford on Tuesday and UL-Lafayette over the weekend. Trojans host UL-Monroe and South Alabama in the final two weeks.

Troy is 8-13 in conference play, still a game out of that final spot for the Sun Belt Tournament. Trojans are tied with ULL and a game behind ULM, UALR and Western Kentucky, so it's safe to say the next two weekends determine Troy's tourney fate, and I truly believe that the Sun Belt Tournament, in its current format of round robin play and then a title game, is anybody's to win this year. College baseball experts I follow see the conference as a one-bid league, and that may still hold true even if FAU doesn't win the tournament.

STANDINGS
FAU 14-5
Arkansas State 12-7
South Alabama 12-9
FIU 11-10
Middle Tenn. 11-10
UALR 9-12
ULM 9-12
WKU 9-12
Troy 8-13
ULL 8-13

Top 8 qualify for the Sun Belt Tournament in Bowling Green, Ky.


Sunday NFL update/Arukwe to Cards

Stanley Arukwe during pregame at Clemson / Lamar Higgins photo


Another free agent signee is wide receiver Stanley Arukwe agreeing to a deal with the Arizona Cardinals.

Arukwe, depending on stopwatches, ran anywhere from a 4.19-4.29 on Pro Day in his first run. He was a track runner his first four years of college, but had a year left to play football and did last year. He made some incredible catches in the Arkansas game and is still raw as a receiver, but very, very fast.

Some more links inking James Brown to the Chicago Bears are HERE, HERE and HERE.

****2 p.m. edit, here's my chat with Arukwe, and it will run in Monday Dothan Eagle plus on dothaneagle.com..


Stanley Arukwe played just one year of college football, but his blazing speed caught the eye of NFL personnel.

Arukwe, who played receiver for Troy University last year, had calls after the NFL Draft from the Philadelphia Eagles, Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals. One call stood out, though, and it was the one with Arizona. It eventually led to Arukwe signing a free agent deal with the Cardinals.

“I was happy my name was in the conversation with teams,” Arukwe said. “Arizona’s wide receivers coach (Frank Reich) called me and said they really wanted me out there to come and compete for a spot. He said they think I have a lot of upside and so much potential and they need some more speed on their team.

“This wasn’t a scout or someone in the administration calling me, this was an actual coach. I took joy to that and had a gut feeling that Arizona was the place to go.”

Arukwe, listed at 6-foot and 184 pounds, has been training out in California. He is from Tracy, Calif., and spent two years running track at Modesto Junior College in Modesto, Calif., before transferring to Troy for track.

He ran track for two years, earning medals in the 2010 Sun Belt Championships in the 100-meters, 200-meters and 4X100-meter relay. Arukwe is fast, running anywhere from a 4.19 to 4.29 (seconds), depending on the stopwatch, in his first run of the 40-yard dash at Troy’s Pro Day.

That run was with the wind, but it still caught the eye of scouts in attendance, many of whom were already familiar with Arukwe’s speed. Strength and conditioning coach Richard Shaughnessy, who aids Troy players in trying to reach their professional goals, said 13 scouts timed his run.

“Thirteen stopwatches aren’t lying,” Shaughnessy said. “He's worked out for three or four teams and I’ve talked to at least 10 more about him. He’ll be in a camp for sure because of his speed.”

Arukwe didn’t even start practicing with the football team until last August. He earned a spot in the rotation, catching 12 passes for 231 yards. He caught four passes for 84 yards at Arkansas and four passes for 51 yards against UAB. His 51-yard reception set up a touchdown at FIU.

“I really never thought I’d have this opportunity,” Arukwe said. “I’m just thankful for the Troy coaches giving me a chance. I’m always striving to get better in everything I do and always trying to compete. I’m really, really happy to get this opportunity.”

Arukwe said his agent had sent in the paperwork for his contract. He said his next step with the franchise is likely to be at a May 10-12 minicamp.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday NFL Draft update

The first Trojan to get picked was defensive ends Jonathan Massaquoi, who went at pick 164 in the fifth round to the Atlanta Falcons. Massaquoi is from around Atlanta, so good fit for him at least on a personal level.

Check back later as this blog post will surely get updated.

Here's what ESPN Draft expert Todd McShay had to say about Massaquoi's pick, on the ESPN NFL Draft.

"He grew on me. At first I started watching tape and they're dropping him on run plays and not using him properly. He's at his best when he can get off the line of scrimmage and get after the quarterback. He's got long arms. He doesn't have great top-end speed. But he ran pretty well in terms of that 10-yard split, which is far more important."

"The scheme did not take advantage of his skills. I'll say it again. I think Massaquoi has a chance to exceed expectations at the next level if used properly."

Massaquoi ran a 1.63 on his 10-yard split, which McShay was on the upper echelon on defensive ends.

***8:15 p.m. update. Strength coach Richard Shaughnessy said James Brown, who surprisingly went undrafted, has agreed to terms as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears, but Brown has not been able to be reached for comment.

On Massaquoi, Shaughnessy said: "He's ecstatic about even going in the fifth round. His agent has ties to Atlanta and he's well-respected. He's got plenty of upside and he'll work his butt off. He just wanted an opportunity and now he's got it."

Massaquoi also hasn't returned messages yet.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Troy hosts FAU

Four weeks remain in the regular season and three of the weekends are at home for Troy's baseball team. It's worst against first here, as the first-place Owls come in looking to extend their conference lead while the last-place Trojans, at 6-12 in the Sun Belt, tries to make up some ground. Troy is just one game behind three other teams in conference play - ULL, ULM and UALR. Troy does have series left at ULL and vs. ULM.

Troy is is coming off a win over Alabama A&M where Ivan Carter made his collegiate debut and got his first win. Carter has been with the program for a couple of years and with Troy's available arms seeming to decrease by the week, maybe he'll get another few innings under his belt before the season ends.

I won't be able to make any of the games and will just post a recap on Sunday. With high school spring sports winding down and some professional events deciding they want to come to Dothan, all hell breaks loose for our four-man sports staff. I'll spend my third straight Friday at Wicksburg in the second round of the playoffs where Lee Hyde and Wicksburg take on Drew Miller's G.W. Long squad. Hyde and Miller are former Trojans.

I think Troy can get at least a game in this series, but it might just be one game as FAU has shown that it's a big step above the rest in Sun Belt baseball this year. If the Trojans get swept, the road to getting back in the mix for a Sun Belt Tournament bid just really gets harder, especially with a road trip to ULL next week and Troy never does well there for some reason. The top 8 out of 10 teams qualify for the tournament. I harp that because last year, the No. 8 seed in UALR, won the conference tournament and got an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament despite being several games under .500.

This weekend, you are pulling for Western Kentucky (hosts ULM). UALR and ULL play each other in Little Rock, so maybe the best thing for Troy is for one team to sweep the other.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Troy's NFL Draft preview/Jr. Pro Day recap

James Brown (70) figures to be Troy's first player taken
I spoke with Troy strength and conditioning coach Richard Shaughnessy, who updated me on Troy's pro prospects as well as the Junior Pro Day, which was last week.

***Shaughnessy said James Brown was a solid second-round pick, based on what he's heard, and "if he falls out of the second round, somebody's going to be getting a steal." Miniscule chance Brown could even go in the first round, but better chance he hears his name called on Friday, which is when the second and third rounds are. Round one is Thursday and rounds 4-7 are Saturday.

Brown has visited Philadelphia and Buffalo. Houston and the New York Giants have shown interest. He's rated as one of the top five offensive guards in the draft. Brown ran well (5-flat in the 40 as a 315-pounder), had solid testing numbers, solid interviews and he's a great kid (side note, Brown is one of my favorite people to come through Troy, so I'm certainly going to be a fan on Draft night).

***Jonathan Massaquoi is also going to get drafted somewhere, though he's got a large range of possibilities. Shaughessy said he's hearing anywhere from third to sixth round, and that some teams love him and some teams don't.  "He's got a lot of upside," Shaughnessy said. "Even though his junior numbers were just mediocre. He had big numbers as a sophomore. He's got the body and he's a physical guy who ran fair."

***Who are some other guys that have caught teams' attention? For one, wide receiver Stanley Arukwe, who played just one year of football at Troy (12 catches, 231 yards), but in front of 13 stopwatches at Pro Day, all 13 had him running between a 4.19 or a 4.29 on his first run with the wind. "Thirteen stopwatches aren't lying," Shaughnessy said. "He's worked out for three or four teams and I've talked to at least 10 more about him. He'll be in a camp for sure because of his speed."

Punter Will Goggans could land somewhere and receiver Brett Moncrief, though he didn't have much of an impact as a senior after a foot injury, is on the radar because of his size. Cornerback Jimmie Anderson is getting a lot of interest from a CFL team and if he doesn't get a camp invite, could sign there right away.

JUNIOR PRO DAY

Shifting gears a bit, this Junior Pro Day was held last week for rising seniors. Shaughnessy mentioned a few guys who caught scouts' eye.

Offensively, fhe first two are running backs D.J. Taylor and Shawn Southward. Taylor weighed in at 225, had a 36-inch vertical, ran a 4.59 40 (good for a big back) and he's plenty physical. Pro scouts like him. Southward is 190 pounds and short, but pro guys say he's better than DuJuan Harris, the former Troy back who caught on with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Southward is a great north-south runner.

Shaughnessy said pro guys like Kyle Wilborn "even though he's got a rap sheet filled with injuries." They think the offensive guard is a good player and is good enough to get a look at the next level.

Receiver Chip Reeves is going to warrant attention because he's very fast, Shaughnessy said.

Two guys on defense - linebacker Kanorris Davis and safety Brynden Trawick - did well. "Kanorris was a freak that day," Shaughnessy said. "Even after his broken ankle last November. He turned a bunch of heads."

Davis broad jumped 10 feet, 8 inches, vertical jumped 36 inches and ran a 4.44. Davis is a guy that could catch on in the NFL at least as a big special teams guy.

Trawick is another guy who looks the part at 6-1 and 3/4, 218 pounds. He jumped a 36-inch vertical, had a broad jump of 10 feet, 2 inches and ran a 4.44 in the 40.

"He's a big safety," Shaughnessy said. "He'll knock your head off."

Trawick's stock can shoot up if he makes more plays against the pass.

Troy falls to Auburn

If you're inclined to read the game story from the 7-0 loss to Auburn, it's HERE.

It was pretty much the opposite if Troy's 9-0 win over Alabama a few weeks back. Troy hosts Sun Belt No. 1 FAU this weekend in a three game set after hosting Alabama A&M Wednesday at 6.

That's also the last time Troy and Auburn play each other in baseball until who knows when. Auburn isn't playing South Alabama, and hasn't been playing UAB for a few years, and I'd venture a strong guess they're not playing Jacksonville State from here on as the Tigers will focus more on easy wins during the midweek while relying on the SEC's conference RPI to help its regional case.

For a long time, Alabama wouldn't put Troy on its baseball schedule but that is no longer the case. Auburn's midweek schedule this year included two games against Alcorn State, two games against Alabama State and one against Alabama A&M.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday links

As you know, Troy and Auburn play tonight at Riddle-Pace. I will be there and providing twitter updates from my account, @dothaneagletroy.

You can read my game preview HERE. It's the first of five home games this week. Troy hosts Alabama A&M on Wednesday and FAU this weekend.

A better story to read may be THIS ONE. It's about former Troy pitcher Landon Brazell, who grew up in Dothan and lives in Dothan. He overcame a serious head injury after a fall and is getting ready for the CrossFit South East Regional this weekend in West Palm Beach, Fla. I've known Landon since we were both in school at Alabama (he started his career there) and I was pretty excited to get to see him pitch on a regular basis in 2005 when I got the job to cover Troy and he was a fifth-year senior.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Some quick Monday notes

I did talk to coach Bobby Pierce this morning. Troy hosts Auburn Tuesday and Alabama A&M on Wednesday with a thin pitching staff, and one that hasn't always been effective with the down-the-line pitchers. They'll all get some opportunities this week.

***Outfielder Hayden Hillyer broke his foot in pregame drills last week at Auburn. He's out for the year. It's been that type of year for the Trojans. College teams can have a 35-man roster, and take 27 to conference games. Troy could only take 25 last week because of injuries, ineligibility, etc.

***Former Saturday pitcher Jimmy Hodgskin hasn't pitched since March 31 because of elbow soreness. I'm not sure when, or if, Hodgskin will pitch again this year.

***Tyson Workman, Troy's closer and an all-conference performer last year, hasn't pitched since April 7. Pierce didn't disclose a reason for that. I'm not sure when, or if, Workman will pitch again this year.

I got to go to CrossFit Embrace today, a workout place in Dothan, to talk to Landon and Keisha Brazell for a story tomorrow. Landon pitched at Troy from 2004-05. He is from Dothan. They are going to the CrossFit regionals in West Palm Beach this weekend, with the top performers going to the CrossFit Games in Carson, Calif., in July. Last August, Brazell slipped off some rings during a workout and landed on his head, fracturing his skull in multiple places. There was internal bleeding, but it stopped. Brazell wasn't supposed to come back and do CrossFit training, but he did and he's back to normal now. It was a near-death experience that I'll be writing about for tomorrow's paper.

The New Orleans Bowl announced a game time of 11 a.m. on Dec. 22. The GoDaddy.com Bowl will be Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. CST. I am certainly pulling for New Orleans if Troy makes a bowl this year. 8 p.m. starts are no fun.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Trojans drop series

Troy lost a 6-5 10-inning game at Western Kentucky on Sunday to lose that series. Troy opened up the series with a dominating 13-3 win, but dropped the last 2 games.

Trojans are now 17-22, but just 6-12 in the Sun Belt. That's good for last place out of 10 teams, and only the top 8 qualify for the conference tournament.

Reading our good friend Chad Bishop's blog, since he covers the Hilltoppers, the SBC standings are as follows: Note that Troy's final four series are home vs. FAU, at ULL, home vs. ULM and home vs. South Alabama. So, that's two series against teams that are just a game ahead of Troy in the standings.

Florida Atlantic (13-3)
Arkansas State (10-6)
Florida International (10-8)
Middle Tennessee (10-8)
South Alabama (10-8)
Western Kentucky (8-10)
Louisiana-Lafayette (7-11)
Louisiana-Monroe (7-11)
Arkansas-Little Rock (7-11)
Troy (6-12)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Troy wins opener at WKU

Got a chance to look at the recap from Troy's 13-3 win at Western Kentucky after getting back from covering the first round of the AHSAA baseball playoffs (Wicksburg 2-0 and 10-3 over Providence Christian is where I was).

Recap HERE and box HERE.
Read the game story from the Bowling Green Daily News HERE.
The teams play at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Some key notes
*** Tyler Ray got a win, his first since Week 2. He needs four wins over the final four regular season weeks to TIE the Troy and Sun Belt career records. He needs five wins to break those records. The fifth start would be in the Sun Belt Tournament, assuming Troy makes it and I think they will. Of course, Troy could give Ray a 2-inning start against Alabama A&M next week and designate it a "staff" game, pitching several other guys as well, and he could get a win.
*** Danny Collins hit his team-best 8th home run of the season.
*** Logan Pierce went 3-for-4 with three doubles.
*** Brandon Brown, Troy's catcher, stole his fifth base of the season.
*** Troy has now beaten Western Kentucky seven straight times.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Weekend update

I'll be bogged down with the Dothan Pro Tennis Classic, AHSAA first round of the baseball playoffs and desk duties to do much of anything Troy-related this weekend. Good thing they are on the road. I'll resume the football blog posts next week.

But, to update, Troy baseball is at Western Kentucky this weekend. Troy hopes to make another trip there in 5 weeks for the Sun Belt Tournament, though that will be at the minor league park in Bowling Green. Trojans are 5-10 in league play, tied with UALR and ULM, and Western Kentucky is 6-9 along with ULL.

The top 8 teams (of 10) make the Sun Belt Tournament. Last year, UALR won the tournament as the No. 8 seed with a losing record. Troy and WKU play Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

Troy's softball team picked up another nice win, 4-3 over Florida State. That's the third win over a team that was currently ranked for the Trojans, who also beat UL-Lafayette and Auburn earlier this season.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring recap: Running backs

Khary Franklin had a good spring after moving from wide receiver (Cass Davis photo)

Troy is known for being a passing offense, but this year's group of running backs is battle-tested, experienced and talented. They showed that during spring practice.

"Running the ball, making an emphasis on running the ball with a couple of linemen out, I think we got better at that," Troy offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield said. "Our backs really did a nice job of breaking tackles and protecting the ball early on in spring."

Three rising seniors got the carries last year. Shawn Southward (123 carries, 556 yards, 4 TD), D.J. Taylor (82-367-6) and Chris Anderson (59-217-1) carried the load. Southward was the 2009 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and he's a physical back at 192 pounds. Taylor is even bigger at 230. The two appeared a bit ahead of Anderson because of their better ability to hit the hole, but Anderson (185 pounds) has great ability in the open field. The fourth senior is T.J. Mitchell, who got two carries last year. 

But Troy's running back depth doesn't come close to stopping there.

Really and truly, besides those top three guys and four seniors, two guys that did some nice things throughout spring were Khary Franklin and Daron White," Edenfield said. "I believe both of those guys can give us some added (dimension), a different kind of back in there. Usually, you need all your backs throughout the course of the year."

Franklin is a junior who moved from wide receiver to running back. White is a redshirt freshman.

"The whole group got better," Edenfield said. "I know Coach (Jeff) Beckles worked hard on finishing runs and being physical they did that. I'm excited about that group. Absolutely (it's the deepest it's been). Being the way we were last year, we're going to get better. We're going to put an emphasis on that."

Brian Exley, a sophomore walk-on, got five carries last year but was injured all spring. Jarod Lee, a junior walk-on, can play some H-back (bigger blocking back). Troy signed two running backs - Andre Allen and Brandon Burks - from the high school ranks in February.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Troy falls at Auburn

Trojans lost 7-4 at Auburn and play at Western Kentucky in a 3-game series this weekend.

Recap HERE and box score HERE.

Trojans get their rematch with Auburn next Tuesday in Troy in what is sure to be another big crowd.

Josh Warren signs with Troy

Troy picked up its second signee of the spring signing period when Brevard (Fla.) Community College center Josh Warren sent in his letter of intent.

Warren is 6-foot-9 and 210 pounds.

"Even before I went on my visit, I had a good feeling," said Warren, who chose Troy over Stephen F. Austin, SIU-Edwardsville and Mississippi Valley State. "When I told my dad I was going to Troy, he just said the name sounds like it fits right. I loved my visit. Everything about the place was great."

Troy was looking for a big man or two in this signing period and Warren fits the mold. On a talented Brevard team, Warren scored 4.7 ppg and had 6.7 rpg as a freshman and 4 ppg and 4.7 rpg last year.

You can see his bio HERE. Warren knew Troy center Tim Owens, who graduated this past season, as both are from the Orlando area.

Warren played in high school, finishing up in 2007, but he couldn't get his diploma until 2009 when he passed the graduation exam. Right then, he got an unexpected call.

"I was working two or three jobs at a time and still trying to get my diploma," Warren said. "A coach at Brevard called when I passed and told me he wanted to sign me."

While Warren's scoring numbers don't jump off the page, other wing players had more scoring opportunities and he'll be asked to score some for Troy. But he knows his main role.

"I'm the hustle guy who's going to get every rebound and dive after every ball," Warren said. "I'll put my heart out there for my team so we can get the win."

Warren said he wants to major in Education at Troy and eventually teach Kindergarten. Despite not starting college until a couple of years after he finished high school, the 23-year-old Warren has made the Dean's List each semester at Brevard.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring recap: Quarterbacks

Corey Robinson delivers a pass during T-Day (Lamar Higgins photo)


Troy finished spring practice and goes into the fall with plenty of promise at the position. Rising junior starter Corey Robinson had a good spring and held on to his starting spot. The offense was in high gear all spring.

"Corey having command of the offense has really helped a lot," Troy offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield said.

Behind Robinson, two others separated from the pack and got most of the rest of the work - junior college transfer Deon Anthony and 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman Dallas Tidwell.

"They both have different skill sets," Edenfield said. "Deon's a little bit more athletic and can do a little bit more running the ball as well as throwing the ball. Dallas is more of a pure passer. I think there's a role for both of them if something was to happen and we'd have to play them a lot."

The competition to be Robinson's backup continues between the two. Anthony is a guy that could play a few snaps a game as a change of pace quarterback. Since quarterbacks aren't live targets during spring, we probably won't see how well of a runner Anthony is until games start.

"We'll try to narrow it down to one guy really getting most of the '2' work and see how it works from there," Edenfield said.

Tidwell was impressive in both scrimmages, and so was Anthony. Tidwell went 9-for-12 for 171 yards and 2 TDs in the Phenix City scrimmage. At T-Day, Tidwell went 6-for-7 for 96 yards and a 65-yard touchdown pass to Chris Williams. Anthony went 7-for-11 for 82 yards and a rushing TD in Phenix City. He went 2-for-3 for 31 yards and a 25-yard touchdown pass in the T-Day scrimmage.

The other quarterbacks currently on the roster are redshirt freshman Luke Barnes, who is on scholarship, and walk-ons Liam Miller and Kevin Pantastico. Troy signed Brandon Silvers from Gulf Shores this spring. Silvers is a dual-threat quarterback.

Collins, Hernandez honored by Sun Belt

From Troy University, as third baseman Danny Collins and pitcher Joe Hernandez earned Sun Belt Player and Pitcher of the Week.

...Collins, who was one of four Trojans to hit over .400 on the week, was 7-for-16 (.438) with a double, a triple and two home runs to help Troy to a 3-1 record on the week and a series victory over Middle Tennessee.

The sophomore third baseman from Niceville, Fla., opened the week with a pair of hits and four RBIs in Troy's 15-7 victory over Jacksonville State. Collins followed that with five hits, five RBIs, a double and two homers in the first two games against Middle Tennessee.


Collins slugged 1.000 on the week, drove in nine runs and scored seven times. He was also perfect on nine total chances defensively at third base. The Trojans averaged 10.3 runs over their four games last week.


After watching Middle Tennessee rack up 21 hits in the series opener, Hernandez shut down the Blue Raiders over 6.1 innings in game two before having to leave the game due to cramps on a warm Saturday evening. The junior from Mobile, Ala., struck out eight Middle Tennessee batters without issuing a walk.


Hernandez allowed just two unearned runs in the first inning after the third out of the frame was dropped on a routine fly ball to the outfield. He held the Blue Raiders to five hits in just his second career Sun Belt Conference start....


Troy is at Auburn tomorrow night.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Troy wins series over Middle Tennessee

Great all-around performance by the Trojans over the last two games of the series against the Blue Raiders. Troy is now 5-10 in league play, tied at the bottom with ULM and UALR, but just a game behind Western Kentucky and ULL. Troy is at WKU next weekend.

You can read my game story HERE.

Troy's next game is at Auburn on Tuesday.

Sunday links

The story I wrote football-related in the Sunday paper is mostly about the offense. I'd suggest checking it out HERE.

Troy's baseball team evened the series with a 6-2 win over Middle Tennessee on Saturday. Joe Hernandez pitched strong into the seventh and Thomas Austin closed it out. Jake Harrell and Danny Collins each homered. Recap HERE and box score HERE. Collins' homer was his seventh and Harrell's was his third.

Troy looks for its first Sun Belt series win today at 1 p.m. against the Blue Raiders. I will be in attendance and you can follow me on twitter @dothaneagletroy.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Troy ends spring practice


Obviously I could try to explain how Troy's 2012 spring practice went, but head coach Larry Blakeney could do it better than me. Here's what he said in his opening comments about the offense, defense, offseason, etc.

He did say that the new field turf is on track to be installed after Charles Henderson High does its spring ball, sometime in May. He said it was something he'd been waiting on for two and a half years, at least. Looking forward to seeing how that turns out.

Troy ran some scrimmage plays at the end (no refs, no stats). Deon Anthony and Dallas Tidwell took turns quarterbacking the first and second team units as those two are battling for the backup job. Several starters sat this one out. Khary Franklin did score one TD on a 14-yard run. Both QBs were intercepted, though both interceptions came on receivers not catching the ball and it landing into the arms of defensive backs. Dionte Ponter and Brynden Trawick had the interceptions.

Troy is as deep at running back as it has ever been.

Saturday links

Few things to share before I hit the bed for a few hours of sleep before Troy's final spring practice at 10 a.m. Saturday morning.

***I did write a football story in the Saturday Dothan Eagle on the defense hoping to show improvement. Obviously the offense has had the upper hand in spring practice this spring. Read more on that HERE.

***Off the topic of spring football, two former Trojan baseball players had their teams square off for the Class 2A, Area 4 title. Lee Hyde's Wicksburg Panthers took the crown beating Drew Miller's G.W. Long Rebels 9-8 in the first game of the doubleheader to clinch it.

***Troy's baseball team lost again, 12-10. Even in a rough season, I was hoping Tyler Ray could pitch his way to the Troy and Sun Belt career wins record. Ray started off 2-0, but hasn't gotten a win since. His bullpen and defense let him down, blowing leads in two of those games (Bethune-Cookman and Monmouth). Ray has to get wins in each of his last five regular season Friday starts, and Troy has to qualify for the Sun Belt Tournament and get Ray a win there for him to break the record. I remember when Ray was a skinny freshman pitching on Friday nights and hopefully he can end his career on a high note over the last few weeks. Game recap HERE and box score HERE. Troy and Middle Tennessee play tonight at 6.

***Some Sun Belt hoops happenings. North Texas head coach Johnny Jones is leaving for LSU, and that leaves UNT in somewhat of a bind, though whoever gets that job will have a stout roster waiting for him unless a bunch of guys transfer out. Jones had built a program that won more consistently in the league over the years. The Mean Green were always a thorn in Troy's side under Jones, especially in 2010 when Troy had a great shot to reach the NCAA Tournament, but UNT's size was way too much in a 3-point win in the SBC Tourney finals.

Western Kentucky is losing another one of its talented freshmen, as forward Vinny Zollo is transferring. He joins Derrick Gordon, the team's best player, who is also transferring after his freshman season. After the finish WKU had, it surprises me that some guys with bright futures are transferring out of the program.

UALR's Chuck Guy, a starting guard who helped UALR beat Troy in the final game in Sartain is also transferring.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Logan Pierce enjoying big season for Trojans

Shown here last season, Logan Pierce leads the Sun Belt in batting, OBP and hits.


This story appears in Friday's print edition of the Dothan Eagle. It can be found on dothaneagle.com HERE.  Troy has a big series this weekend against Middle Tennessee, hosting the Blue Raiders at 6 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. My plan is to be at the Sunday game, covering that one and sending updates from there.

BY DREW CHAMPLIN | dchamplin@dothaneagle.com

TROY – Logan Pierce leads the Sun Belt in batting average, on-base percentage and runs scored.

The Troy junior first baseman has increased his average 168 points from last year’s .235 clip, but the success only makes him work harder.

“When you’re going, you’ve got to keep working,” Pierce said. “When you stop working, all the good things stop.”

That includes at least 200 swings in the cage each day. His father, Troy head coach Bobby Pierce, said Logan has improved mentally and changed his swing up to garner better results. Pierce’s .403 mark leads the team and the Sun Belt, and he is also reaching base at a .523 rate and has 48 hits.

He had a 20-game hitting streak snapped last Sunday at FIU, but went 4-for-5 in Tuesday’s 15-7 win over Jacksonville State. Troy (14-18, 3-9 SBC) hosts Middle Tennessee (20-13, 8-4) for a 3-game Sun Belt series, playing at 6 p.m. today and Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

Bobby Pierce said Logan’s swing slid back at FIU to what it had been before the positive adjustment, but Logan rebounded with the big performance against JSU.

“The bat looked fast again and short and quick,” Bobby Pierce said. “When he’s there, he’s a pretty tough out because he’s always had good vision. He knows a ball from a strike, he sees breaking balls, things like that.

“For him, it’s a matter of keeping his swing mechanics consistent and not putting too much on himself.”

And last year, Logan admitted he put too much on himself. He was used to high batting averages growing up, but despite having 43 RBIs and playing well defensively (only five errors, .990 fielding percentages), some of the 0-for-3 performances took its toll mentally. But he played a big role in a team that won the Sun Belt and went to a regional.

“It was very tough to go home every day knowing that you didn’t get a hit, and that happened a lot of the time,” Logan Pierce said. “The best thing that happened for me was that we won. That’s what kept me going. I did have some bright moments. It was very tough because it was probably the worst year I’ve ever had.”

Now, Logan Pierce has a year of playing experience under his belt, and it’s his third year in Troy’s program as he redshirted in 2010. The extra maturity has helped him ease in at the plate.

“I think he’s finally settled in to just playing the game, being the player that he is versus trying to do more than that,” Bobby Pierce said. “Baseball is a game where less is more and when you’re carrying extra burdens, it doesn’t work out for you.”

The two’s relationship as a coach-player/father-son has also improved from some early tension. Bobby Pierce is finally getting to see all of his son’s games.

“I feel completely comfortable with it now and I hope he does too,” Bobby Pierce said. “Time cures and softens all. It took time for both of us to figure out what was what in this coaching your son thing, playing for your dad thing. It’s more difficult and more challenging than people will ever know, and there’s more blessings in it than people will ever now.

“I’m thankful for the time I get to spend with my son because I missed a lot of time as a coach when my son was playing half a block down the road (at Charles Henderson).”

Logan Pierce grew up watching his father build a program from scratch at Alabama-Huntsville and then taking over at Troy. Bobby also spent time as an assistant at Alabama and became the youngest head coach in Florida junior college history as a 23-year-old at Chipola College. Logan wants to follow in his father’s footsteps when his playing days are over.

“That’s all I know,” Logan Pierce said. “That’s what I grew up with and I think that’s what I would be good at. If I could do half of what he has done in his career, that would be amazing.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tevin Calhoun signs with Troy


If you don’t think Troy’s new arena will pay dividends in recruiting, just look at what it did to get Hill College (Texas) forward Tevin Calhoun to sign with the Trojans.

“I got to see the building and where the practice gyms are going to be,” Calhoun said. “This was a big reason I chose Troy. The concourse area looks really need. They’re definitely putting money into the basketball program and when you have a school that will put money and support into the program, only good things can happen.”

Calhoun, a 6-foot-7, 205-pound forward, is expected to compete for immediate playing time. He averaged 12 points a game on a good Hill team that also is sending center John Odoh to North Texas.

“We had a lot of even scoring. It was a very unselfish basketball team,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun has been all over the country in his basketball exploits. He is from Linden, N.J. and played as a freshman at Kirtland Community College in Ohio. He was a teammate of Troy center Ray Chambers, and then he moved to Hillsboro, Texas for his sophomore year. Now, Calhoun will finish his career in Alabama.

“The thing I can say about basketball is that it’s taken me all over the country and given me the chance to see a bunch of new things,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun could play three positions for Troy – anywhere except true point guard and center. He was high on Troy’s target list and coaches were ecstatic when he signed. He has a 7-foot wing span.

“My ball-handling is developing and I might could play the 2 (shooting guard),” Calhoun said. “I could play the 3 (small forward) or 4 as well. Wherever they need me to play, I’ll play. My versatility is a big part of my game, along with my athleticism and ability to shoot the three and run out in the open court.

“My visit solidified everything. I had a great time getting to know the coaches and the players. The campus was real nice too.”

Basketball recruiting update

The spring signing period began on Wednesday and Troy coaches were all over the country looking for immediate impact players.

The first known signee is Tevin Calhoun, from Hill College in Texas. Calhoun is a 6-foot-7 wing forward and if the stats I'm looking at are right, scored about 12 ppg as a sophomore.

Calhoun is originally from Linden, New Jersey and made his way to Hillsboro, Texas, for junior college ball. He played as a freshman at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio. Hill College is south of Dallas and north of Waco.

He signed with Creighton in the fall, but got out of that letter of intent. If a school like Creighton thinks that highly of Calhoun to sign him in the first place, then you figure he'll be a key contributor for Troy.

Here's what was said about Calhoun when he signed with Creighton originally:

Quoting Creighton head coach Greg McDermott: “Tevin Calhoun is a skilled wing that should be able to come in and stretch the defense and score the basketball. He will compete in a very tough junior college conference that should prepare him for his career at Creighton. His athletic ability will be a huge plus for our program.”

Quoting Cameron Belden (Mullen’s Roundball Review): “Tevin is a very long combo forward type with a very big upside, as more than likely will end up being a true #3 with great size at that position.  He shoots the ball well from ‘3’ and possesses solid ball skills, as he is able to make plays with the ball in the open court.”

Calhoun confirmed his signing to me in a message and I'll be talking with him at some point Thursday.

Calhoun's teammate at Hill, John Odoh, is a center who has signed with North Texas.

Zach Johnson stepping up as leader for Trojans

Zach Johnson (58) blocks an FAU defender in last year's game (Lamar Higgins photo)

This story appears in the Thursday print edition of the Dothan Eagle. You can read it on dothaneagle.com HERE.

BY DREW CHAMPLIN | dchamplin@dothaneagle.com

TROY – When Troy coaches held their draft for the Trojan Challenge, one of the team’s youngest players was the first to go off the board.

Running backs coach Jeff Beckles had the first pick. Just as if he were to pick LeBron James first in a fantasy basketball draft, Beckles took rising sophomore offensive lineman Zach Johnson first in this draft.

Teams of 10 players each compete all spring in challenges on and off the field, but mostly in the classroom, weight room and with community service. The challenge focuses more on accountability than on-field results and statistics.

“Zach is always going to do the right thing,” Beckles said. “I know academically, he’s going to bring in grades for us. I knew he was going to do the right thing off the field. I knew he was going do a good job in the weight room and get us weight warriors points there.

“I just saw him as an all-around athlete.”

The message was simple – coaches and players already view Johnson, who graduated from high school a semester early and enrolled in January of last year and earned a starting spot at right guard, as one of the team’s leaders.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a 4.0 student, early graduate from high school is a guy you want leading your team,” Troy offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield said.

Johnson said he was surprised to get picked first overall. Other first-round picks were receiver Jaquon Robinson, defensive tackle Kyle Lucas, right tackle Terrence Jones, running back D.J. Taylor, center Andrew Phillips, defensive end Tony Davis, tight end Jim Teknipp, receiver Eric Dunn and offensive lineman Evan McKissack.

“It’s a blessing that the coaches think that highly of me,” Johnson said. “I think the Lord’s definitely using me in different ways on this team. Not just on the field, but in the locker room and spiritually.”

Team Beckles unfortunately hasn’t earned as many points from Johnson during spring practice because of a freak neck injury caused by running into a pad, but Johnson did return to the practice field for the final week of spring practice. The injury was minor.

“Obviously, he got hurt, and I couldn’t predict that, but I knew he would do get points in several different areas,” Beckles said. “He has been a leader for us. He leads a Bible study that older guys go to and he gathers guys up for community service work.”

Beckles’ draft strategy took his fellow coaches by surprise.

“I knew that’s who I wanted,” Beckles said. “They didn’t think I was going to pick him first. They knew he’d go in the first round, but they didn’t think I would pick him first.”

Johnson, who is from Dawsonville, Ga., and doesn’t turn 19 until May 29, is still starting at right guard though he played some center in high school. He could play any of the interior line positions for the Trojans.

But he’s focused on doing his part to help Troy turn things around from last year’s 3-9 season. The Trojans finish spring drills with a 10 a.m. workout on Saturday.

“I think we’ve made a lot of improvements in the offseason,” Johnson said. “People are hungry, too, and we want to get back to winning.

“Everybody just doesn’t want a repeat of last year. Everybody’s striving to get better. (Spring practice has been) a lot more physical with a lot more competition and everybody just wants to get better.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Troy names new women's basketball coach

Trojans hire Chanda Rigby from Pensacola State College to replace Michael Murphy. Rigby has been a big winner at that level and gets a brand new arena to build a program with.

More details HERE.

Troy hammers Jax State

 This story appears in the Wednesday print edition of the Dothan Eagle. It can be found on dothaneagle.com HERE.
------------------
BY DREW CHAMPLIN | dchamplin@dothaneagle.com

TROY – Troy pitcher Garrett McHenry used some situations he’s encountered in past games to help him get out of a pair of jams Tuesday night.

McHenry faced Jacksonville State with the bases loaded and no outs in the second and third innings, but kept damage minimal (three runs) in the second and got two big strikeouts and a ground out in the third to keep the game tied.

Troy then went on an offensive tear and won 15-7.

“When I’d come on in games this year and last, it was usually runners on second and third or bases loaded with one out or no outs,” said McHenry, a senior left-hander. “I used that as a mental strategy for this game and it worked for me. I got a couple of groundouts and got out of it.”

McHenry was the second of seven Trojan pitchers. He got the win, throwing three innings of one-hit shutout ball. He struck out two and walked three. He hadn't pitched in nearly four weeks after battling a back injury.
In the third, with the bases loaded, McHenry struck out two JSU hitters and got a fielder's choice ground out to get out of the inning. He hadn't pitched in nearly four weeks after battling a back injury.

“This year, it’s been a regular curve ball and they were struggling to hit it,” McHenry said. “I hung a few and they swung through it.”

Troy’s offense got going after that. Troy had 15 hits and scored two runs in every inning except the second, when the Trojans didn’t score, and the first, when they jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Danny Collins’ two-run triple and Boone Shear’s sacrifice fly.

The Trojans (14-18) had lost six straight, but swept the two-game series from JSU (12-19).

“Coming off six losses, we didn’t have a whole lot of momentum,” Troy catcher Jake Harrell said. “This turned it around for us tonight. We’ve got a big conference series this weekend, so it was huge.”

Harrell, who graduated from Rehobeth last year, hit his second home run of the season, a solo shot in the fourth off Thomas Darrah. Harrell added an RBI single in the fifth.

“I had two strikes and that guy had a good curve ball,” Harrell said. “It fooled me, actually. It got me out on my front foot, but I just got enough lift on it to get it out.”

Jeremy McGowan pitched a scoreless fifth and Ryan Brady struck out four in two scoreless innings. Seven of Troy’s nine starters had a hit. Logan Pierce went 4-for-5 to raise his average to a Sun Belt-leading .403. Collins had two hits and two RBIs, Jakob Nixon went 3-for-5 and Tyler Hannah went 2-for-5 with two RBIs.

Troy hosts Middle Tennessee in Sun Belt play this weekend.

“We’ve just got to come out and stay focused,” Harrell said. “Sometimes we come out and don’t have the intensity and focus and will to win. When we come out like we did tonight, good things happen.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spring practice winding down

Spring practice. Not on Tuesday, but a spring practice photo

Have to say, it's been much more physical at Troy's spring practices this spring. Full pads all the time (when allowed by the NCAA). The Oklahoma drills are very spirited and fun to watch. And yes, some skirmishes break out. I like it and I think it's going to be good for Troy this fall.

I won't call them fights, because they're not. But one player will take exception to a hit or a hold or a grab and come up firing. Usually, both players are restrained and it turns into a big pile. But maybe a skirmish breaks out on the side of the pile. That's football and it happens everywhere.


"Everybody’s legs are tired and they’ve got an ache and a pain here," linebacker Brannon Bryan said. "We’re just going at it and having fun."

It got more heated later in. Quarterbacks are way off limits. Jacoby Thomas came in late and gave Corey Robinson a nice hard push, and all hell almost broke loose. Some more pushing and shoving happened after that, and coach Larry Blakeney had to step in and get it stopped before field goal drills.

"It is normally a little bit like that," Blakeney said about the last week of spring practice. "We’ve got some guys that are competing and it gets a little heated every now and then. We try not to let that turn into something off the field. Sometimes it fuels good stuff on the field but it doesn’t fuel nothing good off the field. I think we all walked it off here the right way.

"I don’t like fighting. Sometimes things happen out here to induce a little scuffle. We don’t condone it."

Blakeney said Thomas "knew better" than to do that. Later on, linebacker Tyler Roberts stripped Robinson as he was about to make a throw and took the ball. In a real game, it would have been a heck of a play and probably a touchdown. In an 11-on-11 practice situation, not so much. This one didn't start anything (and I'm telling you, Roberts is going to be a good one before he leaves Troy).

"(Thomas) knows better than that," Blakeney said. "The one that (Roberts) made was scarier. That’s a no-no. If he had got up on his arm the wrong way instead of the ball, it could have been bad."

***Troy has a practice Thursday afternoon and a practice Saturday morning at 10 a.m. It was supposed to be a scrimmage, but Blakeney said it would be just a normal practice to finish things off. There will be some 11-on-11 work at the end, but no referees or anything like that.

***Starting linebacker Dimitri Miles returned to practice after missing two weeks with an injury. Miles didn't play in any of the scrimmages. Obviously, neither did another starting linebacker Kanorris Davis, who hasn't practice after his bad ankle injury at the end of last season.

***Defensive coordinator Jeremy Rowell said starting safety Barry Valcin looks "back in the mode before he got hurt a couple of years ago" referring to his dislocated ankle/fractured fibula suffered 2 days before the 2010 season started.

 ***Watch out for redshirt freshman running back Daron White. Now, with four seniors returning, I don't know that he has a big role this year, but he should get some carries. He looked like he got hurt on a play, leg or knee or ankle or whatever. Next thing, I look up and he's taking a screen pass, weaving through the defense and getting a big gain.

Tuesday notes: Ole Miss coming to Troy for hoops

*** Did get confirmation that Ole Miss will be coming to Troy, but it'll be in basketball. The Rebels play at Trojan Arena in the 2013-14 season. That's a good home opponent for Troy, which hosts Mississippi State this upcoming season in hoops. A non-conference home game with Georgia State for 2011-12 has also been finalized, and there may be more by this point as coach Don Maestri told me about GSU more than a month ago.

*** Troy's final spring scrimmage/practice is at 10 a.m. Saturday. Troy sports information guru Adam Prendergast says it'll be a half-fundamentals, half-scrimmage practice (no referees). Not sure if I will hold a live chat or not.

*** Troy hosts Jacksonville State tonight in basketball. William Teal gets the start on the mound for Troy, which won big at JSU earlier this year and is looking to get back on the winning side after six straight losses. Seems like Troy has spent a lot of time on the road this year, but four of the final six Sun Belt series are at home, beginning with Middle Tennessee this weekend. Teal hasn't pitched a whole lot in his career at Troy, but he's a local kid (Charles Henderson High) and battling his way back from Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago.

I'll be at that game and will provide some updates, though it may be later into the game as I will also be at football practice and I am not sure if they will overlap.

*** Some more good coverage on Georgia State to the Sun Belt from the AJC, which you can read HERE. That's another big paper and several TV stations from a large market that will mention other Sun Belt schools as well.

*** Not all bad news for Sun Belt basketball teams these days. Tony Mitchell, the most talented player in the Sun Belt as a freshman last year, is returning for his sophomore season in North Texas. He could have been an NBA first-round pick. That just makes the Mean Green more loaded, as you'll read in Brett Vito's blog.

Monday, April 9, 2012

2013 schedule gets an addition, hoops notes

From Troy University


TROY, Ala. – Troy and Ole Miss will meet in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Nov. 16, 2013, both schools announced on Monday. It will be the first-ever meeting between the Trojans and Rebels.
The one-game series with Ole Miss is Troy’s third non-conference game on the books for the 2013 season. Troy opens the season at home against UAB on Aug. 31. The Trojans will make a return trip to Mississippi State on Sept. 21 after the Bulldogs come to Veterans Memorial Stadium on Sept. 15 this upcoming season.

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***That leaves Troy with one more non-conference game for 2013. The hope is that it's a home game and it would probably be an FCS school, but that's to be determined. 

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This is not football-related, but wanted to mention it on the blog as I did so on the twitter feed. You can find out about basketball season ticket information for the upcoming season in the new Trojan Arena by going HERE. 

Troy opens against Mississippi State the day before the Navy football game. MSU is going through all kinds of chaos in its basketball program. Just read this report in the Clarion-Ledger to find out more HERE.

Georgia State's invite officially accepted

Georgia State accepts the Sun Belt's invitation / John McElwain on twitter

The Sun Belt now officially has a new member with Georgia State, beginning in July 2013. Georgia State will be a transitional football member in 2013, playing a conference schedule, but GSU as of now won't be eligible for postseason play until 2014.

You can read the GSU announcement HERE. A media twitter follow is @ajcgsu.


The Sun Belt is having a teleconference at 3 p.m. CST, so if anything else is said, I'll get it updated on here.

***From commissioner Karl Benson - "This announcement is a strong declaration of the Sun Belt's commitment to get better. When conferences add schools to get bigger, they do it to get better. This shows the Sun Belt is in a position to move forward to be stronger in the future." Also said he expects more addition in the next 90-120 days.

***Georgia State was eager to join so it could play FBS football. Benson said he'd push for GSU to be eligible for a conference championship in 2013, but obviously they couldn't be eligible for a bowl until 2014 since the football program, coached by Bill Curry, is only two years old.

***Benson mentioned the tremendous facility plans GSU is undertaking, said GSU is like many other Sun Belt schools in their aggressive plan and vision for the future.

***Certainly was important to get the Sun Belt footprint in the state of Georgia, and that the SEC is a conference they'd like to follow in terms of model and hope to have some scheduling partnerships, etc.

***There are 11 conference teams and "if our goal is to get to 12" then the Sun Belt needs one more on the football side. Benson said they couldn't lose sight of the balance with other sports, especially with UALR not being a football school. Benson didn't mention any other schools they are targeting, but reports in the past have mentioned Charlotte and Texas-San Antonio.

Franklin shining at running back

Troy's Khary Franklin carries the ball in a scrimmage at Phenix City (Cass Davis/Troy University)


This story runs in the Monday print edition of the Dothan Eagle. It can be found on dothaneagle.com HERE. 

BY DREW CHAMPLIN | dchamplin@dothaneagle.com

TROY – One of Troy’s spring standouts is back where he belongs.

Junior Khary Franklin moved from wide receiver to running back – where he played most of his years growing up – and has shined despite the position being deep for the Trojans.

Troy coach Larry Blakeney had ideas of moving Franklin to running back even a week after he caught a 14-yard touchdown pass against North Texas last year. Franklin has speed, but didn’t get totally comfortable at the position and caught seven passes for 26 yards in two years.

“I said I’d love to move back to running back,” Franklin said. “It’s what I had been playing throughout pee wee leagues and middle school. That came more natural to me than wide receiver.”

Franklin played quarterback at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Ga., for his first three years of high school in a triple option offense. There, he got the attention of Georgia Tech, among others.

But he didn’t get any taller. Franklin is listed at 5-foot-8, though he’s probably closer to 5-foot-6. He played running back as a senior, but Troy coaches wanted to move him to receiver.

Now, they realize that running back is where he was meant to be.

“I think he’s adapting well to it,” Blakeney said. “It gives him a chance to get the ball and either bounce it and go or use his speed.

“If he makes a cut, he’s hard to find, and he is not afraid. He’ll run full speed into a crack.”

Blakeney emphasized Franklin’s lack of fear when it came to running the ball. Franklin said he got that trait when he moved to a new neighborhood in sixth grade and started playing backyard football against kids in high school.

“I was the youngest one out there,” Franklin said. “At first, they wanted to take it easy on me. After a while, they were trying to tackle me, but they couldn’t bring me down or catch me. Then they started treating me like I was one of the older kids.

“Then I started to take some licks. I love the game of football and I know you’re going to have to take contact every now and then.”

Franklin ran for 45 yards on nine carries in Troy’s recent scrimmage at Phenix City. The Trojans close spring practice this week with practices on Tuesday and Thursday and a final scrimmage at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

“The thing about Khary is that he has good vision,” Troy running backs coach Jeff Beckles said. “He sees the field very well. We had to slow him down a little bit as a running back because as a running back running zones, you have to see the hole and shoot through it, where he was just getting it and going.”

Franklin has proven that he will stick at running back, and wants to add more muscle mass before the fall. 

However, since Troy has four senior running backs returning – including the three leading returning rushers – Franklin said he has talked with coaches about using 2012 as a redshirt season with the chance for more playing time at the back end of his career.

Blakeney acknowledged that possibility, but said he doesn’t want to hold Franklin back if he can help the Trojans win games.

“I’m sort of an all hands on deck guy and I think he can help this football team next fall,” Blakeney said.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Troy swept at FIU

Tough season getting a little worse for the Trojans, who were swept by FIU. FIU took the Sunday game 4-2 and Saturday game 5-3 after Troy had a lead.

Sunday recap HERE.

Saturday recap HERE.

Troy has lost six straight and the Trojans are 13-18, 3-9 in Sun Belt play. Logan Pierce had his 20-game hit streak snapped Sunday, though he leads Troy hitting .386.

Troy hosts Jacksonville State on Tuesday and Middle Tennessee next weekend.

***Also of note, the Sun Belt announced a teleconference for 3 p.m. CST on Monday regarding the future of the conference. My guess is that it's to officially announce the addition of Georgia State. I'll listen and update if that's said and if anything else interesting is said.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Saturday links

With Troy up 4-0, the FIU runner was called safe on this play
Troy went down to FIU for a weekend series and it continues to go south for the Trojans. First, shortstop Tyler Hannah was hit in the face with a ground ball during infield work before the game. He did enter the game later. With Troy up 4-0, the runner here was called safe (got this photo from Adam Prendergast's twitter), and later FIU hit a 3-run homer. This is like the play that cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game a few years ago.

After that, FIU's offense exploded for an 11-7 win. Game story HERE and box HERE. Troy and FIU play Saturday at 5 p.m. CST

***Football's second spring scrimmage was in Phenix City on Friday. It's a nice deal for the folks in PC, but Troy's football team attends school in Troy, Ala., and plays its home games there, so this hurts the residents of Troy and the students of Troy, unless you want to ask them to spend nearly two hours driving and paying for gas to go watch a team that should be playing in their own backyard. I said last year it's D2ish for an FBS team to play a scrimmage away from home, especially in Troy's case since the Trojans are on ESPN every year, put guys into the NFL and everybody knows who they are. Do any other teams, especially in the Sun Belt or WAC, do this? (edit: Well, UNC is, which is surprising. My point still stands.)

Meanwhile, game recap with some stats are HERE. Offense, as I said, should have plenty of explosive plays this year and the defense still has some question marks, based on the yards given up, but I don't know who sat out the scrimmage due to injury and who didn't.

Troy is back at practice next Tuesday, Thursday and finishes up with a scrimmage on Saturday.

***Some big news around the Sun Belt. Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson is meeting with Georgia State officials next week and GSU could be in the Sun Belt very soon. That's a good road trip for Troy and fans from Troy and in the Wiregrass, Montgomery or Birmingham can make that trip in a day. 3:45 edit - HERE THEY COME for 2013.

***More bigger news in the basketball world. FIU fired Isiah Thomas as head basketball coach after three seasons. It was a trainwreck, as he seemed to be more interested in the Knicks than FIU.

Western Kentucky freshman guard Derrick Gordon, the team's best player, plans to transfer to get closer to home.

FAU already lost star point guard Ray Taylor (even if he didn't play like a star this year) to the pros, and underachieving forward Kore White left a year early. Now, Omari Grier, who shined at times as a freshman is transferring out.

The spring signing period begins next Wednesday, and Troy coaches are looking for at least three impact players who can come in and help turn things around after two losing seasons.

Willis ready to shine in front of home crowd

Bryan Willis returns an interception against Oklahoma State in 2010 (Troy University photo)
***Troy's second scrimmage is tonight in Phenix City. I will not be there to provide updates. However, I wrote this story below, which appears in Friday's print edition of the Dothan Eagle and is on dothaneagle.com HERE.

BY DREW CHAMPLIN | dchamplin@dothaneagle.com

TROY – Troy hits the road for a football scrimmage today, but it’ll feel just like home for senior cornerback Bryan Willis.

Troy’s 6 p.m. CST scrimmage is at Garrett-Harrison Stadium in Phenix City, which is a town over from Columbus, Ga., where Willis grew up and starred for Shaw High School.

It’s the second straight year that Troy has held a spring scrimmage in Phenix City. While it’s not ideal for residents and students of Troy, it allows fans in the Phenix City-Columbus area to get easier access to see Troy’s team.

“They’re very interested in us coming, and a welcome mat is always good,” Troy head coach Larry Blakeney said. “It at least gives some young people the feel for a short road trip, having to be on time, get on the bus, ride over there and get ready for a game, go through that routine.”

Columbus used to be a hotbed for Troy football, as all-conference standouts such as defensive backs Terence Moore and Courtland Fuller and offensive tackle Chris Jamison are just some of several players who have come from there to play for Troy.

Willis and Josh Burnham, a redshirt freshman walk-on defensive back who played at Northside, are now the only Columbus natives on the roster.

“When I go back to Shaw, I tell them Troy’s a good school to go get an education and play sports,” Willis said. “You can go to any school and play, and Troy’s right down the road.”

Willis is excited about the scrimmage because he’ll have more family members and friends who are able to attend.

“We’re really just trying to come together as a team and get more exposure,” Willis said. “I think it really helps the program, for family members and friends to come out and watch me play, it’s just like high school. It feels real good.”

Willis has started off and on for the Trojans. He earned a starting spot in 2009 as a redshirt freshman and garnered all-conference honors. In 2010, he was slowed by a hamstring injury and lost his spot. Last year, a back injury hindered his progress. He missed three games, but had 37 tackles.

Willis had two interceptions in 2010 and four in 2009, and he’s showing signs of looking like the corner he was as a freshman.

“He’s had as good of a spring as he’s had since he was a freshman, to this juncture,” Blakeney said.”

Now, Willis is focused on maintaining his starting spot. He’s been helped by new corners coach Julius Brown with fundamentals work.

“He brings a new attitude,” Willis said of Brown. “He’s always excited and he wants us to compete. As long as we compete, we can work on the fundamentals and get better.

“My main goal is to compete and get better, and try to limit the receivers on my side to less catches. I don’t believe in locking anybody down, but you can limit players to a certain amount of yards and certain amount of catches.

“I’m trying to do my part and hopefully everything else will fall into place.”

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Troy baseball at FIU this weekend

Troy is back in action this weekend with a road series at Florida International. It's a matchup of the two teams predicted to be at the top of the Sun Belt, but it hasn't worked out that way through the first three weeks of conference play.

Troy is 13-15, 3-6 in Sun Belt play, and this is the Trojans' third road series of the Sun Belt season. FIU is 16-13, 4-5. Friday's game is at 6 p.m. (CST), Saturday is 5 p.m. and Sunday at noon.

"We just continue to have a hard time putting together back to back (quality) games," Troy head coach Bobby Pierce said. "We've had some bright spots here and there. We're definitely due, no doubt. We're due for a solid performance."

Injuries have hampered Troy this year. Recently, senior outfielder Josh McDorman had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum on his right (non-throwing) shoulder. McDorman was hot in the fall, blasting 10 home runs, but hit .138 in nine games earlier this year.

"He hadn't been able to swing a bat for two weeks before this came to fruition," Pierce said of his surgery. "It got to the point where his shoulder would slip out of place when he'd swing and miss or have any type of extension, such as diving back to a base. It started to make sense why he didn't look the same at the plate (as he did in the fall).

The good news is that McDorman has a redshirt year and can play again in 2013. The bad news is that it's another injury to a potentially key player. Consider this group of players - McDorman, C/DH Blake Martz, 1B/DH Kyle Brown, RHP Drew Hull, LHP Shane McCain, LHP Ryan Sorce, RHP Adam Purdy - all out for the year with injuries or ineligibility (Martz).

Troy knew it wouldn't have Sorce or McCain long ago. The rest have gotten hurt either during the season or right before spring practice. The Trojans have also been without OF Clay Holcomb because of a hand injury, though he took some swings against live pitching on Wednesday. Catcher Brandon Brown missed some time with a thumb injury

"It's been a very challenging year as far as the guys we've lost for the season and the guys that are playing banged up," Pierce said. "FIU is a talented team and somewhat similar to our club in that we both think we have not played to our potential."

Pierce said Troy's pitching rotation is Tyler Ray on Friday, TBA on Saturday and TBA on Sunday. Ryan Brady and Joe Hernandez are candidates, as well as Jimmy Hodgskin. The sophomore lefty, at 1-1 with a 7.24 ERA, hasn't pitched to his capabilities this season.

"To sum it up, (he is) overthrowing," Pierce said. "He got into a good stretch late last year when he felt like he could command all three pitches and in the fall, he continued to roll with it. After three outings, we felt like he was right where he needed to be and we shut him down for the fall. In the spring, he did what he was doing last spring where we thought he'd revert to his experience."

Pierce said Hodgskin had an extended bullpen session on Wednesday to work things out.

"At this point, we decided he needed to get the work more than he needed to pitch over the weekend," Pierce said, noting Hodgskin could be ready to pitch on Sunday.

Troy is led offensively by first baseman Logan Pierce, who takes an 18-game hit streak into the weekend along with a .408 average. Tyler Hannah and Boone Shear have hit five home runs each.

Mike Martinez leads FIU, hitting .366. Pablo Bermudez, the preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year, is hitting .320. Jabari Henry leads FIU with four home runs.


Johnson, Reeves back on field for Troy

Jamel Johnson runs a route during scrimmage warm-ups (Lamar Higgins photo)

Chip Reeves lines up during T-Day (Lamar Higgins photo)



This story appears in the Thursday print edition of the Dothan Eagle. It can be found on dothaneagle.com HERE.

BY DREW CHAMPLIN | dchamplin@dothaneagle.com

TROY – While Troy struggled to a 3-9 record last year, two of the Trojans' top receivers were in another state.

Jamel Johnson was showing out against competition in the Mississippi junior colleges, but working harder on his grades. Chip Reeves was at home in Stone Mountain, Ga., paying out of his own pocket to take online classes to regain his eligibility.

Now that the two are back, Troy’s offense is rolling again in spring practice. Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 217-pound junior gives Troy a physical element it didn’t have last year. Reeves, a 5-foot-10, 176-pound senior, may be the fastest player in the Sun Belt and has been nearly impossible to cover on deep routes during the spring. Troy missed that speed last year.

The two played secondary roles in Troy’s 8-5 2010 season, but still put up big numbers. Reeves caught 30 passes for 515 yards and five touchdowns, and Johnson caught 23 balls for 258 yards and three scores.

But off the field, their grades suffered. Johnson admitted to being lazy and said he fell three credits short after the spring 2011 semester. He could have redshirted last year, but went to Holmes Community College in the small town of Goodman, Miss.

“(The town) could probably fit in this stadium,” Johnson said, while inside Veterans Memorial Stadium. It was eye-opening and humbling. It was teaching me what I had lost and what I can gain.”

Johnson made it to a couple of games. Reeves tried to watch, but couldn’t bear to when he’d check in and see that Troy was losing.

“I’d get down because I felt like it was my fault,” Reeves said.

Reeves was also academically ineligible for the GMAC Bowl after the 2009 season. He had to take online classes last fall, but was put back on scholarship before the spring semester.

“I had a talk with (Troy athletics director) Mr. Steve Dennis,” Reeves said. “He had a long talk with me and told me I had to do right if I wanted to be back on the team. I promised him that I would do right and that’s what I’m back here trying to do.”

Reeves felt worse for his family, as it seemed like he wouldn’t be able to make it back to Troy. But he did what he needed to do, and is poised to have a big senior season.

“It was bad for me because it broke my mom and my dad’s heart,” Reeves said. “Everybody thought I blew my chance to play at the next level. I thought I blew my opportunity to get an education in college and play at the next level, so it was heartbreaking for me to see my family go through it.”

Troy’s offense had some growing pains last year with injuries and several new starters. Reeves and Johnson join key returners like junior Eric Thomas (team-best 67 catches, 875 yards, nine touchdowns), senior Justin Albert (40 catches, 338 yards, one TD) and sophomore Chandler Worthy (22 catches, 392 yards, four touchdowns), to name a few.

Johnson could have been recruited again, and said Auburn showed some interest, but he was set to come back to Troy. Troy head coach Larry Blakeney was confident that Johnson’s coach in junior college would ensure that he returned to Troy.

“I just wanted to get my grades up, that’s the biggest thing,” said Johnson, a Montgomery native who is focusing on being a leader. “I really wanted to come back to Troy because I like playing football here.”

Blakeney said that all academic reports on the duo have been positive, but they’ve still got to keep it up to be ready for the fall and that Johnson has a chance to be “better than good.”

“Every report I’m getting has been positive,” Blakeney said. “I’m sure there’s a way to screw it up. We’ve got everything hopefully headed in the right direction and they’re doing what they are supposed to do.

“It would be a big, big shame if something bad happens, because they’d make a difference.”