Saturday, June 30, 2012

Taking stock: Special teams

This is the first of a series of 8 brief previews of Troy's positions as we lead into Sun Belt Media Day, which is July 16 in New Orleans. After that, we'll focus on what's going on with Troy's opponents and that may even overlap into the start of fall practice, which is OK.

Most of these previews will come from my amateur observations and conversations earlier this spring.

The skinny: Troy lost almost everything - every kick, every snap, but the holds and some of the return game. Chandler Worthy (23.5 yards per return) was the leading kick returner last year and he's back. Justin Albert was the primary punt returner and showed some game-breaking ability in his first real year of college action. Albert has a chance to be an all-conference performer as a punt returner, and Troy will have several guys returning kickoffs. Will Scott, a junior college transfer, battled with grayshirt freshman Ryan Kay and redshirt freshman walk-on Jed Solomon for all the kicking duties this spring. Jaquon Robinson was the holder last year and the long snapping battle is between a pair of juniors in Hunter Graham and Kendall Gibson.

Likely starters: It's still going to be a battle through fall camp, but Scott is a guy that could be the Trojans' placekicker and punter. The last time that happened was with Greg Whibbs in 2007, when he had to take over punting duties in the fourth game. Scott earned some junior college All-America honors during his career at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Expect Scott to be the primary punter, with the kicking battle going down to the wire. Whoever the kicker is will be stepping in inexperienced at this level.

Young guys to watch: Coach Larry Blakeney called Solomon a gymrat and said some of the best kickers he's ever had are guys who were, pound for pound, among the strongest on the team. Solomon is listed at 5-7, 152. Kay is a bigger guy, listed at 248 pounds, but that number could be lower as Blakeney said Kay has done a great job of dropping some weight since spring practice. Kay has punted and kicked, and Solomon is a guy that could handle kickoffs. There is a place on the field for both of these guys before their time at Troy is done.


Top special teams moment of the Drew Champlin era (since 2005): It wasn't a clutch field goal, though Mikey Taylor's 48-yarder to send it to OT in the GMAC Bowl, or an electrifying Leodis McKelvin or Jerrel Jernigan return, but a successfully executed onside kick by Whibbs and the kickoff team against Middle Tennessee in 2006. Fred Turner dislodged the ball from a MTSU hands team member and Henry Chubb recovered. Down 20-14 with 2:19 left, that's what started Troy's run of five outright or shared Sun Belt championships.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Montgomery OL commits to Troy

David Gross from Trinity Presbyterian school in Montgomery became Troy's fourth offensive line commit when he pledged to sign with Troy on Wednesday.

"I really enjoyed the coaching staff and got along real well with coach Larry Blakeney and coach John Schlarman," Gross said. "I like the small town aspect and felt like it was the place to be. I knew they were filling up fast with spots on the offensive line and I always knew in my heart for a while that Troy was the place I wanted to be. I talked to my dad about it and went ahead and committed."

Gross had an offer from UL-Lafayette and schools like Samford and Jacksonville State. He picked up his offer from Troy back in April and came to Troy's camp recently. He was getting interest from schools like Auburn and North Carolina State, but the bigger schools wanted to see more of him at offensive tackle. Gross had been a defensive end up until the fourth game of the season last year when he was moved to tackle. He'll still play on the defensive line, but the offensive tackle spot is where his future lies.

"I think my head coach, Randy Ragsdale, knew it from the start," Gross said. "A lot of coaches were telling him, 'Hey, you should play David on the offensive line some.' In 10th grade, I was about 6-4, 6-5 and about 240 playing strictly defensive end. The faster ones run about a 4.6 and I'm a 5-flat or 5.2 (40-yard dash). I can do the shuttle times just as fast, but college coaches were saying I should be at tackle and wanted to get a look at me there."

Now, Gross is up to about 285 pounds. He said he wants to major in sports management or something business-related. Here are some highlights of Gross from YouTube.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Alcorn State coming to Troy

Troy has finalized its 2013 opponents, according to a school release. Alcorn State, fresh off a 65-0 loss to Troy in 2008, will be making a one-time return trip.

Next year's four non-conference games are UAB at home (Aug. 31), Alcorn State at home (Sept. 7), at Mississippi State (Sept. 21) and at Ole Miss (Nov. 16).

In the Sun Belt, South Alabama plus three other conference teams will come to Troy. It's not as appealing as this year's schedule, not even close, but the players deserve a cupcake game and SWAC teams usually bring a good band, for those that like the band shows.

**The Sun Belt announced they will transition to a multi-channel HD replay system, effective for this football season. You can read more on that HERE.

Back to Alcorn State, here's a highlight from that 2008 game.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Enterprise WR commits to Troy

Enterprise, Ala., wide receiver Clark Quisenberry made an early impression on Troy coaches, earning honorable mention all-state honors last year as a tight end. Last week, he committed to Troy.

(Another edit): Story in Wednesday Dothan Eagle HERE.

"He really enjoyed the recruiting process by Troy and they did a really good job of selling the program," said Kevin Collins, Enterprise's athletics director who coached Quisenberry through last season. "Once you commit, you want your word to stand. There's always a little bit of pressure early on, but he and his family felt like it was a good fit and they went ahead and made the decision."

Collins had high marks for Quisenberry's ability. He played tight end at Enterprise but is being recruited as an inside receiver for the Trojans. Quisenberry had 37 catches for 692 yards and five touchdowns last year.

"They are getting, probably in my career, one of the most tenacious players I've ever coached," Collins said. "He practices that way and he'll hit you. He's just got that type of mentality. He's not really that way off the field, but once he gets between the lines, he can flip that switch. Other teams can see it. When he's out there, they know who he is and what kind of player they're facing."

Quisenberry is 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. He is also a star baseball player for the Wildcats, who reached the third round of the Class 6A playoffs. He'll play his senior football season for new coach David Faulkner. Quisenberry could play some quarterback and he also punts.

"He does a lot of things for us," Collins said. "What sets him apart is his tenacity. He plays the game at full speed."


2 p.m. Tuesday edit - Did talk with Quisenberry, and here's what he had to say:

"I went to camp the other day and all the coaches were really nice and treated us well," he said. "It was a good experience and I really couldn't imagine going anywhere else."

Quisenberry was offered in the spring and chose to commit this summer.

"It all just happened," Quisenberry said. "I grew up an Auburn fan but obviously I'm a Trojan fan now. I've been going to Troy games with my grandparents. God just put it in front me and I thank Him for it."

Quisenberry, strong in his faith, said he wouldn't be a problem off the field.

"First off, I love Jesus Christ and he's my Savior," Quisenberry said. "I want everybody to know that I'm going to be one of those guys who does things the right way. They won't have to worry about me off the field. I'll give everything I have to the team and I'm a guy who wants us to succeed."

Quisenberry also spoke on his on-field tenacity.

"I'll just say that when I'm playing, if a guy on the other team is a friend, he's not my friend when we step inside the lines," Quisenberry said. "Even in practice, it's the same way. Unless he's on my side of the ball."

Quisenberry also played basketball for Enterprise, but won't play that sport as a senior. He said he hopes to play baseball as well in college, presumably at Troy, but hasn't gotten that opportunity yet to play both sports.

Mississippi OL commits to Troy

Troy added a third offensive line commit as Taylor Edwards from Water Valley, Miss., gave a verbal commitment Monday morning.

Edwards was on a visit to Troy with his family. He had been offered by Troy early on, as his high school coach went to high school with Benjy Parker and the connection was there.

"I took a tour of the campus today and saw the players work out," Edwards said. "It sealed the deal for me. I had believed I was going to do this for a while now and finally decided to pull the trigger after we went and met all the coaching staff."

Edwards is 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds and plays right tackle for Water Valley High School. He could play anywhere on the line at Troy.

"Tackle is where I'm most comfortable, but the (Troy coaches) like to move guys up and down the line," Edwards said. "They want to get me in here and see where I'd fit. I'll work on guard and maybe start learning to snap as well."

Edwards' first offer was Troy and he recently picked up an offer from UL-Monroe.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lexington, S.C., lineman commits to Troy

Lexington, S.C., offensive lineman Johnathan Boring impressed Troy coaches during a recent camp, earning an offer. Not long after that, he committed to Troy.

Boring lived in Auburn before moving to South Carolina in seventh grade, and he has plenty of family and friends still nearby.

"My whole life, I've been dreaming of being a Division-I football player," Boring said. "My high school coach said Troy's a big Division I and it's what you want. I'll be able to see family and friends who are basically only an hour away and also play at a really nice school."

Troy was Boring's first offer, but he had also been recruited so far by Clemson, Duke, Kentucky and Tennessee. Boring said he planned to take another unofficial visit to Troy soon so his mother and brother - who is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds as an eighth-grader - can meet Troy's coaches.

Boring is 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, perfect size for a tackle, but he plays center for Lexington High School, which went 11-1 last year, getting upset in the first playoff game to a team it had beaten 52-17 earlier in the season.

"I can play guard, tackle or center," Boring said. "I played center last year, guard and tackle my sophomore year and left tackle my freshman year. The way our offense is, the coaches like to keep all the meat inside and let the fast and skinny kids block the outside. I can get (the snap) back there and never have had a bad snap."

Boring said he wasn't sure what he would major in, but eventually wants to either be a chiropractor or go into physical therapy. He was relieved to get his commitment done before his senior year.

Here are some video highlights of Boring from YouTube.


Sylacauga lineman commits to Troy

Troy picked up its first commitment for the 2013 signing class last week when Brett Medforth, an offensive lineman from Sylacauga, committed to Troy.

"The facilities are really nice and they have some really professional coaches," Medforth said. "They have a good brand of football down there. Of all the places that have been recruiting me, Troy clicked with me the best."

Medforth, 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, had some recruiting interest from South Florida and also had offers from Jacksonville State and Appalachian State. He projects as an interior offensive lineman at the college level and plays right guard for Sylacauga High School.

Medforth took part in one of Troy's two camps a couple of weeks ago. Troy coaches were aware of him before then, though.

"They came and saw me in the weight room and coach (John) Schlarman liked what he saw," Medforth said. "They talked to my coaches and had watched my tape. This was before school had gotten out."

Medforth said he wants to major in criminology. Here are some highlights on YouTube.


2013 Commit List

This blog post will be pinned on the right side and updated with commitments for the 2013 signing class. All commitments are non-binding until a letter of intent is signed next February.

HIGH SCHOOL
Josh Anderson (RB - Douglasville, Ga.)
Shannon Smith (WR - Macon, Ga.)
Blake Rowlinson (WR - Alpharetta, Ga.)
Clark Quisenberry (WR - Enterprise, Ala.)
Wyndell Archie (TE - Saraland, Ala.)
Johnathan Boring (OL - Lexington, S.C.)
Brett Medforth (OL - Sylacauga, Ala.)
Taylor Edwards (OL - Water Valley, Miss.)
David Gross (OL - Montgomery, Ala.)
Dondrell Harris (ATH - Panama City, Fla.)
Bryan Slater (DL - Mobile, Ala.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thursday links

We had a couple of Troy-related stories in today's Dothan Eagle.

HERE is a great read from Ken Rogers on Steve McLendon helping out at an Ozark camp. McLendon's last season at Troy was in 2008 and he's still playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers after signing as an UDFA in 2009.

Former Enterprise catcher Justin Hancock, who played the last two years at Central Alabama, signed with Troy. I caught up with him earlier this week and HERE is the story.

And some big football-related news. Signee Michael Lindsey was one of the students at Elba arrested for vandalism. You can read HERE from our courts reporter that all involved were accepted into the Coffee County deferred prosecution program. I'd think that, with this, assuming he takes care of business and is academically eligible, Lindsey will be with the team this fall. That's just my guess right now as it's after midnight and I just saw this article.

From the article...

....Records also indicate that as part of the agreement, the defendants must comply to the conditions of the program, which include the payment of the deferred prosecution fee of $250 to the Coffee County District Attorney’s Office, payment of the to be determined restitution to the district attorney’s office, court costs to be paid within 90 days and the state’s right to reinstate the criminal charges should the defendants fail to comply with all the terms of the agreement.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Troy hits the APR mark

The APR (Academic Progress Rate) scores came out today and Troy hit the mark of 925 (multi-year) or 900 (one year) in all sports and won't have any penalties. HERE is the Sun Belt release and no schools will face any postseason penalties.

You can search schools, sports and years HERE.

**BASEBALL - 945 (up from 944 last year, 938 the year before)
**FOOTBALL - 930 (downward trend, as the last three years in order go 932-940-945)
**MEN'S BASKETBALL - 967 (sport has been good, with 952 and 953 in last two years)
**MEN'S CROSS COUNTRY - 983 (excellent, and up from 954 last year)
**MEN'S GOLF - 973 (very good as well, up from 970)
**MEN'S TENNIS - 977 (very good, improvement from a good 955 score)
**MEN'S OUTDOOR TRACK - 989 (excellent, up from a great 983)
**SOFTBALL - 955 (continued improvement as the last few years are 946-938-946-933)
**WOMEN'S BASKETBALL - 965 (down from a 983 and 982, but good nonetheless)
**WOMEN'S CROSS COUNTRY - 983 (very good and improvement from 969)
**WOMEN'S GOLF - 991 (outstanding and improvement from 982-969-936 the last three years)
**WOMEN'S SOCCER - 988 (excellent and continued improvement from 979-955-947)
**WOMEN'S TENNIS - 965 (very good, holding steady and improvement from 954)
**WOMEN'S INDOOR TRACK - 967 (very good, just like the 962 and 965 the previous years)
**WOMEN'S OUTDOOR TRACK - 968 (very good, up from 963 and 965 the previous years)
**WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL  - 967 (down from 977, but way up from the 3-year average of 933 in the years prior)

Catching up with Adam Godwin

Former Troy center fielder Adam Godwin is having a good year personally and professionally.

He is engaged to Dr. Jack Hawkins' daughter, Kelly, and is leading the Atlantic League in batting. Godwin was the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year for Troy in 2005 and was drafted and played several years in the Dodgers organization. He was released in 2010, but has really shined in the Atlantic League, which has players get signed to MLB organizations pretty regularly.

Godwin could get that call soon. Also, read the interesting story on how he and Kelly met. Read HERE.

On another note, that's the third player from that 2005 team I've written about extensively this summer. You can read about pitcher Landon Brazell HERE and when Clint Robinson got called up to the Royals HERE.

Monday, June 18, 2012

David Felix meets Kid Rock

BamaJam visitors got to hear musician Kid Rock on Saturday night. He made a pit stop at Troy University Saturday afternoon looking for apparel.

At the time, Troy was hosting a kids basketball camp. Assistant coach David Felix and his wife were in the concessions area.

"This guy comes up and asks for a jersey," Felix said. "I said, 'Well, we don't sell jerseys. All we're selling is t-shirts.'

"He said he had gone to the bookstore and they told him to come here. I said we didn't sell them, but he was wanting to wear one that night."

Thankfully, Felix's wife Mary had a keen eye for music.

"She said, 'You're Kid Rock, aren't you?' He goes, 'Yeah,' Felix said. "I wouldn't have known him if he had given me some clues. I went and got him an old home basketball jersey that said Trojans on the front of it, and I heard he wore it for at least an hour."

Kid Rock started the show with an Alabama football jersey on, but later took it off and sported his Troy Trojans jersey. Felix said he knew who Kid Rock was, but didn't recognize him.

"It caught us off guard," Felix said. "My wife got a picture with him and some parents were coming in and out and they got a picture with him. Coach (Don Maestri) showed up, but he would have had as good of a chance of recognizing him as I did."

On another note, the new Trojan Arena is almost finished, and it's helping turn the recruiting part of the program around.

"It certainly helped us this year," Felix said. "We still have to get the (recruits) to come visit us. In the past, our facility would hurt us. This gets them excited. When kids first get here, they want to see the facility. In the past, we didn't use our facility too much in the recruiting process.

"Now, we've got a special place, and it's really going to help us."

Blakeney wants upgrade for Troy football, but money must come first

Larry Blakeney wants some improvements to the football facilities, and he's not shy about how he feels. Read it in Monday's print edition of the Dothan Eagle or on dothaneagle.com HERE.

BY DREW CHAMPLIN | dchamplin@dothaneagle.com

TROY – Troy head football coach Larry Blakeney isn’t hiding the fact that he wants improvements to Troy’s facilities.

The last time Veterans Memorial Stadium had work done was in 2003, when an $18 million project resulted in the six-story tower that Troy sells hard to this date. Since then, each sport except golf, Blakeney said, has undergone facility renovations.

“We can be stonewalled or we can stonewall,” Blakeney said. “Sooner or later, you’ve got to invest in facilities or you get left behind.”

While Troy was in the middle of its run of five straight conference titles, shared or outright, he watched other schools make changes. North Texas and Florida Atlantic opened new stadiums last year. UL-Lafayette has an indoor facility. Western Kentucky’s stadium went through a massive renovation four years ago. Arkansas State has a three-story football complex. That’s just to name a few.

Troy has the Tine Davis Fieldhouse, which is adequate, but “yes, you can operate in Davis Field House. But nobody on campus is comes through and walks around our offices,” Blakeney said.

There are plans to enclose the north end zone of Veterans Memorial Stadium. Blakeney wants suites which could be sold to pay off the project, as well as a letterman’s lounge and a recruiting lounge, team meeting areas and a locker room, coaches offices, and especially a much better visitor’s locker room.

“The cherry on top of the sundae would be to attach an indoor facility to a new football building,” Blakeney said.

The project would be roughly $15 million, Troy chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr., said, and if the school raises $5 million for that project, it can get off the ground. Blakeney said if an indoor facility was added, it could push the project to $30 million.

Right now, that progress isn’t close. Right now, they are just plans.

“I think we’re further away right now than we want to be,” Hawkins said. “In the 23 years I’ve been here, we’ve never said we were going to do something and we didn’t get it done. It’ll get it done, I just can’t tell you when.”

Since the new Trojan Arena, which will house basketball and volleyball, is close to being finished, the focus has moved to this new football facility, athletics director Steve Dennis said. The progress may not be close today, but a couple of quick and large donations could change that.

Right now, Blakeney’s not sure where that will come from. Hawkins did add that when debt service was paid off in the next year from renovations to Riddle-Pace Field four years ago, that could free up funds to possibly entertain a bond issue.

“I don’t mind asking folks to contribute,” Blakeney said. “I’m not sure who to ask. I know we have people in our area who can afford to help us, but I’m not sure a whole lot have the willingness to do that.”
Dennis, who was hired in 2005 after serving in a fundraising position at Auburn, has worked with his staff to try to raise money, and he had an optimistic tone about the project.

“We’ve got some options from an internal source and we’ve got options, we’re looking for funding from an external,” Dennis said. “For me to sit here and say there’s a deadline and timeline, I don’t know. If I get a million dollar donor, we can get some things going on and maybe get started tomorrow. If the economy goes and loses four trillion dollars, then things get tough.

“My love for it is to see it happen as fast as it can. It is definitely on the front burner to make sure we’ve gone through the loop and now it’s to finish the piece of the puzzle for our football program.

“It’s not going to happen in the fall of ’12, but if we start digging and get something going on with fundraising and get a good idea with what kind of resources we’ll have, if we start really  working hard on the design and implementation, (we’re) getting it done in ’13, and maybe moving in ’14.

“That is totally predicated on us raising money.”

Right now, the only new addition for Veterans Memorial Stadium this year will be new turf. Dennis did say there were plans to have three practice fields done closer to the new Trojan Arena. The hope is that one could be covered, and one field could be for intramurals. Trees between Troy’s current practice fields, behind Davis Fieldhouse and the new arena, would be cut down.

That covered field didn’t jive with Blakeney’s hope for an indoor facility.

“That’s for aesthetics around the arena,” Blakeney said. “I don’t know what we need two more practice fields, or three. I dang sure am not going to turn it down, but it’s not something that will save the program. I hope we can get turf on one of them.”

Dennis said the school is still looking for a corporate sponsor for the stadium after Movie Gallery’s closing ended the company’s ties with the school in 2010.

“It would be a big bang for the buck as compared to a 30-second or a minute ad on the Super Bowl or for what anybody else would be asking for,” Dennis said.

Other projects Dennis said were part of a strategic plan:
>> Baseball: Adding seats and suites down the right field line.

>> Softball: A $1.5 million project to redo the field, knocking the dugouts down and rebuilding those, getting the sight lines right, fixing the stands and getting the home dugout connected to a covered facility similar to baseball’s current setup with the Lott Complex.

>> Tennis: A $2-3 million project with a goal and vision to cover a couple of courts, have increased locker room size, facility and office for the tennis program.

>> Golf: Dennis said Troy has the property for north of McKinley Drive to have a practice facility, a $1-1.5 million project. “It could be, say, four holes, change tees around, how are we going to utilize that to be a golf teaching facility – not a golf course to come play golf.”

>> Soccer: Plans are to get lights on the soccer field to attract tournaments and host night games.

>> Track: Resurfacing the facility. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday's Sun Belt story

How the Sun Belt will look on July 1, 2013 (illustration by Joseph Huntley)
The graphic in the Sunday print edition of this story has Boone Shear, Corey Robinson and Emil Jones above the map. You can read it on dothaneagle.com HERE.

BY DREW CHAMPLIN | dchamplin@dothaneagle.com

It’s mid-June, and Karl Benson can finally relax.

Benson, the Sun Belt’s commissioner since March 15, left a conference (Western Athletic) that is a shell of its former self thanks to college football realignment and came to one where there was uncertainty. Recently, the conference got to 12 member institutions and halted expansion efforts for the time being.

Benson had been going nonstop while the Sun Belt lost two schools, but added three more. The Sun Belt has 12 schools – 10 football-playing institutions – and is now geographically divided into two divisions.

The West has Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas State, UT-Arlington, Texas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe. The East features Troy, South Alabama, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Georgia State and Florida Atlantic.

“That has allowed me to pause and catch my breath,” Benson said. “This has stopped the merry-go-round a little bit. That’s good. Now, to focus on three or four other important issues.”

Gone are North Texas and Florida International to Conference USA. New FBS football programs Georgia State and Texas State have joined, as well as UT-Arlington, a non-football program which moved from the Southland Conference.

Benson and Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr., who is Troy University’s chancellor and is the Sun Belt Conference Executive Committee President, both believe the Sun Belt is in better shape now than before realignment hit.
UT-Arlington has invested more than $80 million in athletics, with plans for $17 million more in expansions.
UTA puts the Sun Belt back in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. Texas State’s campus in San Marcos is is 32 miles from Austin and 50 from San Antonio.

Georgia State gives the Sun Belt an Atlanta presence. All three new schools join the conference officially on July 1, 2013, when UNT and FIU depart.

“We anticipated change,” Hawkins said. “We didn’t get washed away by change. The Sun Belt Conference today, in my estimation, is stronger. We’re stronger academically and athletically.

“It’s a conference going like this (Hawkins points upward). I’m not sure all conferences are going like this. I think we’ve passed two, and may be on the verge of passing a third, without mentioning names.”

Winds of change
Hawkins, who is entering his fourth year in his position with the Sun Belt, said he and other conference members had always been paying attention to the changing landscape, but really had to take action late last year and early this year when the Big East was losing and adding teams left and right.

That conference poached four teams from Conference USA, and the sentiment was that C-USA would add teams from the Sun Belt to fill the void.

But the Sun Belt had a bigger issue to solve with the departure of commissioner Wright Waters, who announced his retirement last October, effective this July. That was pushed up in March, not long after Benson was named his successor.

“We had been sensitive to (realignment) and we anticipated it, then Wright said he was going to retire,” Hawkins said. “I encouraged all the stakeholders (Sun Belt presidents) to be active. There’s nothing that we’ll do that’s more important to the future to this conference than appoint Wright’s successor.”

There was also no one that they could have picked with more experience dealing with conference realignment than Benson, who had served as the WAC’s commissioner since 1994. Benson helped secure long-term bowl deals and ESPN contracts with the WAC. He was also a victim of the conference’s success, as schools like Boise State eventually moved conferences.

The position for Sun Belt Conference commissioner had plenty of applicants, but Hawkins knew right away that Benson was the perfect fit.

“He was so knowledgeable and he had a game plan,” Hawkins said. “When he walked through the door, he was anticipating those dominos and he whipped out a game plan. We knew then that he was our guy.”
Benson knew the dominos were falling, and the WAC’s geography wasn’t beneficial enough to keep adding schools while current WAC members were jumping to the Mountain West Conference.

“I’ll have to admit that a year ago at this time and even six months ago, I don’t think that I would have ever considered the Sun Belt as a landing spot,” Benson said. “When I talked to (the Sun Belt) in January, by that time, some of the changes were being anticipated with the Mountain West and ConferenceUSA.

“While I knew that the Sun Belt might be impacted by some type of Mountain West/Conference USA arrangement, I knew if the WAC was impacted, there weren’t a lot of (expansion) options available to the WAC.”

So Benson left a conference where it seemed nobody wanted to be a part of, especially for football, and went to a conference which wasn’t settling for second-best, a point Hawkins made clear.

“We wanted to avoid that life support system,” Hawkins said. “We didn’t want to be in a desperate situation. What we also wanted to avoid was being a threshold conference. We didn’t want to be a threshold conference for any institution that was just looking for a step up. If an institution didn’t bring something to the table, we weren’t going to look at them.”

Hawkins didn’t mention other schools’ names, but he didn’t have to. The WAC, next year, has only two football-playing schools in New Mexico State and Idaho. That’s two schools victimized by location, small media markets and a low quality of athletics. The Sun Belt could have taken them to make 12 football schools, but didn’t.

Sun Belt Conference officials studied getting to 12 or 14 football-playing schools, but elected not to go that route. With 10 football schools, that also means no championship game, which Benson said now wasn’t even on the to-be-discussed list.

“What we weren’t willing to compromise was the geographic footprint,” Hawkins said. “It could have been enticing if we kept our eyes on that prize and not the geography.”

What now?
With expansion efforts halted for now, Benson listed several other key areas.

** Renegotiation for television contracts with ESPN.

** Repositioning and rebranding that goes along with a new strategic plan for the conference.

** The future of the Sun Belt Conference basketball tournament, which has been in Hot Springs, Ark., since 2009 and is contracted there through 2014. “We haven’t had that conversation but that’ll be one of the initial discussions that we have,” Benson said. “Hot Springs has been a great partner. I think we always have to explore other venues and other sites within the Sun Belt footprint.”

** Adding a third bowl. The Sun Belt is locked in with the New Orleans and GoDaddy.com Bowl, but with a 10-team league, a third bowl is needed. “One other priority and important piece of the future of Sun Belt would be our future bowl arrangements,” Benson said. “Now that it appears we’re going to be a 10-team league, we need at least one more guaranteed bowl spot and perhaps a fourth.”

** Benson said football conference schedules are soon to be set for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, where schools would play eight conference games and skip one team. “There’s a chance we could get to nine games as early as 2014 but my guess would be 2015,” Benson said.

** Formats for conference tournaments for sports like baseball, softball and volleyball, as new members are added, and a location. “There appears to be interest in neutral sites for all of our championships, but we’ve got to have the right site, the right business model and the right location for it,” Benson said.

The landscape now gives the Sun Belt a chance to be more competitive with other conferences its size. It will never be the SEC, and it knows that, but other conferences dealing with realignment are also adding new
FBS football programs, such as Conference USA with Charlotte, Old Dominion and Texas-San Antonio.
The Sun Belt is always competing with C-USA, the Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West in the perception battle.

“As I looked at the landscape, whatever gap may have been between the Sun Belt and those others may have deteriorated and the competitive gap was narrow,” Benson said. “I looked at the Sun Belt as a conference with a chance to move up the pecking order.

“In looking at it now as we come out of the Conference USA changes, there’s not a lot of difference between the Sun Belt and Conference USA. I’m looking at the Sun Belt as a tremendous opportunity to move up in the pecking order.”

Benson said the next step is to get the teams more competitive, especially in men’s basketball and football.
The conference had four bowl-eligible teams last season, but Benson is thinking bigger.

“We need to bring back the credibility of men’s basketball and that means multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament and once we get teams, that means winning games in the NCAA Tournaments,” Benson said. “That needs to be a priority.

“In light of where the football landscape is, is there any reason a Sun Belt football program can’t contend for a high profile postseason opportunity similar to Boise State or Hawaii or TCU or Utah?” Benson said. “Why not a Sun Belt team playing in the Sugar Bowl? Why not a Sun Belt team playing in the Orange Bowl?”

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Blakeney on the recruiting budget

By now, you may have read the ESPN piece on The Cost of Recruiting, where all the FBS schools had their recruiting budgets listed over the past two years.

Troy's was at $87,330 for 2011 and $81,816 for 2010.

To contrast, here's the other schools in the Sun Belt and how much they spent on recruiting over the last two years.

ARKANSAS STATE - $123,086 - $99,353
FAU - $111,456 - $98,372
FIU - $183,748 - $124,672
ULL - $132,922 - $128,590
ULM - $44,057 - N/A
MIDDLE TENNESSEE - $203,596 - $164,343
NORTH TEXAS - $126,064 - $115,011
TROY - $87,330 - $81,816
WESTERN KENTUCKY - $170,323 - $149,541

I'm not sure why Troy's is a good bit lower than most schools, but head coach Larry Blakeney said he's never had any constraints on recruiting.

"There's never been anywhere we couldn't go," Blakeney said. "I've never been told I couldn't go anywhere, and neither have my coaches. I've never had a problem with that and never had to beg for money."

I guess the point is that Troy isn't hampered by anything when it comes to recruiting. That may have been the original thought when this article came out and it had me wondering as well. If there's a lead on a guy in California, they can go after him. My guess is other schools recruit players in a bigger recruiting base because of geography and have to make more flights or spend more to fly kids to campus. Troy usually gets a couple of recruits from the Kansas junior colleges, but the recruiting base is in Alabama, Georgia and Florida - and now they're recruiting Mississippi high schools more. That's a large recruiting base with every school still within six hours or so. That means all driving trips. On the other end, if Western Kentucky wants to recruit someone from St. Augustine, Fla., that's plane tickets on multiple occasions to the school/home and a plane ticket for a prospect's official visit.

Troy recruited a lot more out of south Florida in the latter part of the last decade, but most of those recruits didn't pan out. Troy wasn't recruiting in Jacksonville at that point and now they are, as coach Jeff Beckles has a big presence there. Some of Troy's higher-rated recruits from the last class - Shaquille Beverly, Brandon Brooks, Bobby Walker - come from Jacksonville and I still expect Troy to get good players out of there for the foreseeable future. It's also a driving trip and not a plane ride.

Stay tuned for Sun Belt/Troy stories on Sunday and Monday.



Thursday, June 14, 2012

Robinson sent back to Omaha

Quick note, former Troy and Northview standout Clint Robinson was optioned back to AAA Omaha by the Kansas City Royals today.

It probably won't be the first time Robinson is shuttled back and forth between Omaha and Kansas City due to organizational needs.

Robinson, 27, had four pinch-hit appearances for the Royals. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He'll get regular at-bats in the middle of the order with Omaha again.

LATE THURSDAY NIGHT ADD, from MLB.com, on Robinson

While the Royals could drop a pitcher to add another hitter for the series at St. Louis, it won't be Robinson because he can't be recalled for 10 days. So infielder Irving Falu or outfielder David Lough could be in line if that happens.

 Robinson was used four times as a pinch-hitter and went hitless with two strikeouts.

"It was tough," Yost said. "Every situation I put him in was against closers or seventh- or eighth-inning guys so it was really difficult -- not for just a young guy but for a polished pinch-hitter in general. Having those types of at-bats is very tough but I thought Clint did a good job. It would've been a different story if we didn't have the necessity."

Thursday links

Not much to share, but a couple of things. What makes baseball great is that you never know what could happen and all the stadiums look different. Witnessed Matt Cain make history with a perfect game for the Giants. He was born in Dothan, but I don't think he lived here long and we never hear from family members about him. I wonder if he still has family in Dothan.

I tweeted out this link about schools' recruiting budgets. Troy's was $87,330 last year and $81, 816 the year before. That's lower than anyone else in the Sun Belt except ULM, and every other Sun Belt team spent more than $100,000 last year. (I'd really like to see the budget when Tony Franklin went to Utah and California repeatedly and signed some guys.)

Of course it's great to see Troy be so competitive with a small recruiting budget compared to the rest, but what it says more is how it's time to step up with the money, and some of that money comes from you Trojan Warriors (well, according to the athletic department officials I've talked to). It also comes from other sources, such as corporate sponsors, private donations and what-not. Those haven't been large as of late.

Not sure if this is funny or sad. Probably both. The EA Sports NCAA Football series is popular, but South Alabama was accidentally left out of this year's game, despite the fact it is an FBS school. New FBS schools Massachusetts, Texas State and Texas San-Antonio are in the game.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Troy baseball in the pros

In light of the recent news of T.J. Rivera being selected as a South Atlantic League All-Star, here's how some recent Trojan baseball players are doing at the next level. Hope I didn't leave anyone off. The player links go to their MiLB.com player profile.

**So far, Clint Robinson is 0-for-3 in three pinch-hit appearances with the Kansas City Royals. He figures to be up in the majors for at least 8 more games, though hopefully it'll be longer.

**Chase Whitley (AAA - Yankees organization) - Whitley, who played one season at Troy and was drafted in 2010 and signed, is 5-2 with a 3.93 ERA as a middle reliever at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He's been struggling in his last few games, but has made a rapid climb up the organization as a relief pitcher.

**T.J. Rivera (A - Mets) is hitting .323 with 7 HR and 30 RBI for Savannah. Rivera was a two-year starter and didn't hit for much power at Troy, but is really swinging it well after signing as a free agent last year.

**Adam Bryant (A - Twins) is hitting .271 with 0 HR and 22 RBI for the Beloit Snappers and playing shortstop. Bryant hit for some big power over his last two years at Troy. Bryant started out last year in Beloit and his bat hasn't really caught up in the pros as it did in college - yet.

**Chris Sorce (A - Mariners) is 1-2 with a 7.11 ERA for the High Desert Mavericks. Sorce pitched one year at Troy, 2009, and got drafted. Sorce was a reliever at Troy but has been a starter in the minors. Last year, pitching for High Desert, he was a California League all-star. Now, his MiLB page says he's on the voluntarily retired list, so looks like his career is over.

**Mike Rivera (AAA - Red Sox) is still hanging around. He's played for several years in the big leagues, and played for Troy long before I even started covering the Trojans.

Some other former Trojans are playing for independent leagues or just got done playing. Former catcher Beau Brooks tried his hand at pitching last year for the Angels, but got released after four minor league seasons. HERE is an interesting story about Adam Godwin, an outfielder who is tearing it up in an independent league and just got engaged to Dr. Jack Hawkins' daughter. Pitcher Josh Dew made it to AA with the Cardinals a few years back, but has been playing independent ball. He had re-signed with the Wichita Wingnuts again, but now he's pitching in the Mexican League.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Collins earns all-region honors

Honestly, Danny Collins should have been the second-team all-Sun Belt selection, but at least he did get some recognition for a pretty good season. This is from Troy University. I didn't get a chance to write much on this, but Collins did a complete 180 defensively from the first half of the season where he made double-digit errors. Third base is definitely a position of strength, offensively and defensively, heading into next year.

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Troy third baseman Danny Collins was named to the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) All-South Central Region Second Team, the ACBA announced Monday.

Collins, a native of Niceville, Fla., finished his sophomore campaign batting at a .318 clip with 17 doubles, two triples, 12 home runs and 52 RBIs. He scored 41 runs while posting a .388 on-base percentage and a .562 slugging percentage (.950 OPS).

He ranked among the top four in the Sun Belt Conference in RBIs, doubles, home runs and total bases, while ranking among the top 10 in hits and slugging percentage. Collins was outstanding at the hot corner over the final half of the season as he committed just one error in Troy’s final 30 games.

Collins led the Trojans with his 31 extra-base hits on the season and with 16 multi-RBI games. He finished tied for second on the club with 20 multi-hit games, but led the team with nine three-hit contests.  An All-American in junior college as a freshman, Collins was named to the All-Sun Belt Tournament Team after going 8-for-12 with three runs scored, three RBIs and a homer in Troy’s three games.

Collins is one of six underclassmen returning for the Trojans next season that started at least 34 games in 2012. The Trojans won five of their final six Sun Belt series of the season and won two-of-three games in their pool at the Sun Belt Tournament.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Saturday links

There's plenty of stuff around the interwebs worth reading, so here are some links.

As you read here the other day about Clint Robinson getting promoted to the bigs, he made his debut Friday against the Pirates. He struck out in 3 pitches in his first at-bat against all-star closer Joel Hanrahan as the Pirates beat the Kansas City Royals 4-2.

Robinson will stay with KC at least for four series, three of which are at national league parks. It's not the ideal situation, as this Royals blogger writes. His path is blocked by first basemen/DH Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler, so the sample size will likely be a bunch of pinch-hits against closers or lefties (which teams will bring in after Robinson is announced as a pinch hitter).

I'd suggest following @Royals_Report on twitter, as that's the Kansas City Star beat writer Bob Dutton, who had a great blog about Robinson earlier Friday.

Former women's basketball coach Michael Murphy didn't go far after being let go as coach this spring. He's got a new position inside the athletic department as Director of Special Events.

The Troy women's basketball team has two new assistants and some new signees.

Former Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters was named first-ever Football Bowl Association Executive Director.

Former Trojan defensive end Brandon Boudreaux landed in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Boudreaux never could get consistent playing time, but the guy is as strong as an ox. I hope he does well.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday's football story

This is the story in Friday's paper after talking to coach Larry Blakeney at the kids camp here in Dothan. I don't know if it's all that groundbreaking, but nice to read about football after the spring sports season winds to an end. It's on dothaneagle.com HERE.

BY DREW CHAMPLIN | dchamplin@dothaneagle.com

Troy head football coach Larry Blakeney had some time to reflect on the state of his team in between sessions of his annual football camp at Rip Hewes Stadium on Thursday.

The camp was for kids ages 6-13, as they learned fundamentals of the game from Troy’s coaching staff. It was a nice bridge between spring practice, offseason recruiting and preparing for the start of fall camp in August.

“We’re holding on and making sure everyone’s qualified before we bring in the young guys,” Blakeney said. “They’re working out. We’re starting our throwing schedule. Coaches just got off the road.

“Everything’s plucking right along. We’re trying to keep tabs on them to make sure they’re doing everything they’re supposed to be doing school-wise. That’s the important thing, and strength and conditioning.”

Blakeney said a new NCAA rule says that if a signee enrolls for summer school on scholarship, he automatically counts as part of the 25 regardless if he is fully qualified or not. Therefore, most signees won’t get on campus until the second summer term. Two new players from junior college who are enrolled in classes and expected to make an impact are defensive tackle Xavier Melton and defensive end Marty Stadom.

The hope is that more impact players – defensive tackle Derrek Upshaw and cornerback Zach Miller – will be ready to go by the second summer session.

Senior Tony Davis, who moved from defensive tackle to defensive end, is a key part of the defense.

“He’s a guy we’ve got to have out there because he knows what to do and he’ll always try to do it to the best of his ability,” Blakeney said. “He’s not an overpowering athlete, but he’s going to be as close to perfect as he can humanly be.”

Blakeney said injured starters Kyle Wilborn (left guard) and Kanorris Davis (linebacker) are on track to return for fall camp. Wide receiver Corey Johnson, who tore knee ligaments this spring, is doubtful to return this season.

Blakeney was pleased by the effort during the spring and said the return of receivers Chip Reeves and Jamel Johnson, who missed last year due to grades, was a big help.

“Those two cats made a difference in the spring,” Blakeney said. “Our running backs really ran the ball tougher and that’s without a couple of (starters) on the offensive line.

“I think we got better. We ran the football better. We worked hard on the red zone, both sides of the ball, trying to make sure we expose them to as much of that as we can.”

The Trojans will be playing this year on a new field surface. The program is raising money for a north end zone expansion, which would include a football building.

It’s unclear at this point how far away the school is from breaking ground.

“If I knew that, I’d be in Vegas,” Blakeney said. “I really don’t know. I know that (athletic director) Steve (Dennis) is working hard to try to raise some money. We really need a building, an end zone/stadium club or whatever, we need that facility. We need an indoor facility. I don’t know how far along that part is.

“It’s all about recruiting. You’ve got to invest in your program whether it be whatever sport. I think it’s time to invest in football again in Troy.”

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Robinson called up to Royals

This story will be in Friday's print edition of the Dothan Eagle. It can be found on dothaneagle.com HERE.

BY DREW CHAMPLIN | dchamplin@dothaneagle.com

Late Thursday night, it still hadn’t hit Clint Robinson that he was a Major League baseball player.

The former Troy and Northview standout was informed late Wednesday night that he would be promoted from AAA Omaha, where he hit .322 over the last two years, to the Kansas City Royals, the organization that drafted him in 2007.

Robinson, a first baseman, arrived in Pittsburgh Thursday. His wife Samantha was en route from Kansas City. His mom, stepdad and brother are scheduled to fly from Dothan Friday, and his father is supposed to fly in from St. Louis Friday.

The Royals begin a three-game series against the Pirates at 6:05 p.m. Friday.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet, because I’m so comfortable with this group of guys,” Robinson said. “These are guys I’ve played with my whole career and been to two big league camps with. I’m sure when I first put on the uniform and walk down the tunnel to take batting practice, then it’ll hit me.

This year, Robinson was hitting .314 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs. Last year in Omaha, he hit .326 with 23 homers and 100 RBIs, earning midseason and postseason all-star honors. He won the Texas League Triple Crown in 2010 with AA Northwest Arkansas, hitting .335 with 29 home runs and 98 RBIs.

“This is a great day especially for Clint but also for our program,” Troy head coach Bobby Pierce said. “It’s an exciting time to see a former player get his opportunity at the next level.”

This is the first player to reach the big leagues since Pierce and assistant Mark Smartt took over at Troy before the 2003 season. The last Trojan to reach the majors was catcher Mike Rivera, who has played for five major league clubs from 2001-2011.

“The main thing for all of us here is how deserving he is because of the work he’s put in and the success he’s had,” Pierce said. “He’s had a tremendous minor league career and we’re so happy for him. Now he’s getting the best reward you could possibly get.”

Robinson got his first rookie initiation to the big leagues on the team’s bus. He said outfielder Jeff Francoeur made him sing a song, and he picked the theme song to the television show The Big Bang Theory .

“I told my wife I was going to pick the wimpiest song I could think of,” Robinson said.

Robinson said he wasn’t sure what his role would be. Speculation around the internet was that the Royals were calling him up to be a left-handed bat off the bench for some upcoming interleague games.

Nine of the Royals’ next 12 games will be at National League ballparks, eliminating the use of a designated hitter but also calling for pinch-hit opportunities late in games.

“If they need me to provide something off the bench, that’s fine with me,” Robinson said.

Robinson played for Northview and Dothan Post 12, graduating in 2003. He started for four years at Troy, breaking the hits record in 2007 although it was later broken by Adam Bryant.

Now, after six seasons in the minor leagues, he’s reached his ultimate goal.

“I’m going to go out and try to slow it down and drink it all in,” Robinson said. “I’ll enjoy it for what it is, which is a lifelong dream being realized. I’m not going to do anything all crazy or get too riled up. It’s a lifelong dream being fulfilled.”

Thursday football notes

Larry Blakeney football camp at Rip Hewes Stadium in Dothan
Troy head coach Larry Blakeney and staff were in Dothan Thursday for the annual youth football camp. Here are some personnel notes:

**NCAA has tweaked rules a little bit. Once upon a time, teams could bring kids in during the summer regardless if they had been fully cleared. If a snafu came up, kid could go home and fix it or eventually just go to junior college. Now, if a kid comes in the summer and he's on scholarship, he counts toward the 25 and can't grayshirt, etc. (unless he's paying his own way). So, coaches are really making sure all the loose ends are tied before letting a signee come on board.

**JUCO defensive tackle Xavier Melton is in Troy and attending classes. He's qualified. JUCO defensive end Marty Stadom, who signed in 2011 but wasn't eligible last year, is also in Troy and attending classes. Those two are expected to be difference-makers.

**Two more difference makers include defensive tackle Derrek Upshaw, who is in Troy but not expected to begin classes until second term, and cornerback Zach Miller, who is hopeful to be enrolled for second term.

**They're still going to apply or have applied for a waiver for defensive tackle Lonnie Gosha to play this year, but Blakeney doesn't expect it and expects Gosha will use this year as a transfer/redshirt.

**Troy signed defensive line recruit Braylon Williams from junior college in February, but Blakeney said he will not be a part of the team. Mutual parting of ways.

**On special teams, they're pleased with the three new kickers, and it looks like JUCO transfer Will Scott has an edge at place kicker and kicking off. Blakeney was pleased with punter Ryan Kay getting in better shape and dropping some weight and said redshirt freshman Jed Solomon is a "gym rat" with great strength.

**Three games - the home games vs. UL-Lafayette, Mississippi State and Navy - were picked up by ESPN3, so you can  watch them online at WatchESPN.com if you don't come. Home kickoff times have been set as well.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Troy baseball adds more signees

Head coach Bobby Pierce and the Troy baseball team announced four more signees today. HERE is the official school release.

** Garrett Pitts (SS, Central Alabama CC) - From Fairhope, started career at Mississippi State. He had an OBP of .459 and is in line to be the SS and a top of the order hitter at Troy.
** David Hall (OF, Indian River CC) - Hall hit .373 with 11 HRs. Last week Pierce told me they wanted to sign a guy who was like Boone Shear, and this guy put up JUCO numbers like Boone Shear. Middle of the order type guy.
** Austin Sullivan (RHP, Northwest Florida State) - Went 2-1, 2.05 ERA, 45 Ks in 30 IP. He should find himself somewhere in the pitching plans.
** Justin Hancock (C, Central Alabama CC) - Originally from Enterprise High School. Hit .250 with 2 HR and 11 RBI at CACC, but he's very good defensively.

FALL SIGNEES - HERE is original release

** Levi Tate (LHP, Enterprise High School) - Tall lefty with an excellent changeup will compete early. Dothan Eagle Super 12 selection who pitched Enterprise to the Class 6A quarterfinals and has been the ace since his sophomore year.
** T.J. Binder (C/SS, Ooltewah, Tenn.) - Perhaps signed as a catcher, played a good bit of shortstop and hit around .400, earning all-area honors. Versatile left-handed bat.
** Will Starling (RHP, Southern Union CC) - Went to Pike Liberal Arts High. Went 11-4, 2.89 as a freshman to pitch SU to World Series. Went 5-6, 4.85 ERA, 4 saves, as a sophomore. Will contend for rotation spot and also played infield.
** Ben Tidwell (LHP, Gulf Coast CC) - From G.W. Long in Skipperville before going to JUCO, but could miss the 2013 season after talented left-hander suffered elbow injury this year.
** Trae Santos (LHP, OF/1B, NW Florida State) - Big left-handed bat and arm. Went to Pelham High School. Hard to say where he'll make a bigger impact (likely with the bat) but he should make an impact.
** Matthew Howard (RHP/IF, NW Florida State) - 2-time Fireman of the Year in the Panhandle Conference according to coach Bobby Pierce, Howard went 5-2 with 1.46 ERA and 9 saves. From Southside-Gadsden High. Will be a valuable arm at the back end of games but could hit a little bit as well.
** Tanner Hicks (RHP, Central Alabama) - Went 10-1, 2.76 ERA for CACC as a sophomore. From Stanhope Elmore High School. This guy could be the No. 1 pitcher next year.

Troy may have a few more newcomers on next year's roster via walk-ons or academic scholarship guys.