Troy needs young players to emerge quickly in 2016

Troy needs young players to emerge quickly in 2016
Troy's Rashad Dillard is a first-team all-conference player at defensive end. (Troy Athletics)

Troy experienced a tale of two seasons in 2015.

The Trojans were overwhelmed in their first six games by the likes of Mississippi State, North Carolina State and Wisconsin. They were more competitive in the second half of the campaign, including a 41-17 win over the Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns to end the year.

“We played better football at the end of last season,” coach Neal Brown said of his 4-8 squad. “I’m not happy with what our record ended up being, but I felt like we made steady improvement throughout the year.”

Alabama NewsCenter is posing five questions to state college coaches as the 2016 football season draws near. Next up are Brown and his Trojans, who host Austin Peay at 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3, to kick off their season.

NC: What is the outlook for this season?

NB: I think it’s about improvement. We’ve got a really young football team. If you look at the depth chart we released (Monday), you’re going to see a lot of really new faces, especially on offense. Seventeen guys on our depth chart on offense have never played in a Division I college football game. We’re young, but we’re talented. We’ve got an experienced quarterback, a guy who’s played a lot of football here. This is going to be his third year as a starter. On defense, we’ve got a front seven that has a good deal of experience. I think you’re going to see a football team that, as the year starts, we’re going to lean heavily on our defense.  As we get some experience on offense, I feel that by the time we hit our (Sun Belt) conference schedule we’re going to be a much improved team, a team that’s got a chance to be really competitive within our league.

NC: What is your team’s strength?

NB: I think it’s defense, the front seven without question, and at quarterback. We’re one of the few teams in our conference that has a returning starter at quarterback. That gives us an edge. Defensively (among) our front seven, Rashad Dillard is a first-team all-conference player at defensive end. We’ve got three guys on the interior who played a lot of football for us last year. We’ve got a graduate transfer, Junior Gnonkonde, who played a lot for North Carolina the last three years. And we’ve got four senior linebackers. That group is experienced. We’re going to lean on that group heavily in the opening of the season.

NC: Who are your standouts this season?

NB: Offensively, Brandon Silvers, our quarterback, is a three-year starter and played a lot of football. Our starting left tackle, Antonio Garcia, is a pro prospect, probably our best overall football player on offense. And our running back (Jordan Chunn) missed last year with a broken collarbone. He’s back. He had two productive seasons as a freshman and sophomore. And Emanuel Thompson will probably be our leading receiver. Defensively, Rashad Dillard at defensive end, Junior Gnonkonde at defensive end, and William Lloyd was one of the newcomers of the year in our league last year. In the secondary, Kris Weatherspoon is a junior college transfer at safety we think has a chance to be a really good player. And we have Kam Melton from Dothan, who transferred from Auburn.

NC: What game do your fans have circled on your schedule?

NB: They like seeing how we match up with a Power 5 opponent. We play Clemson in Week 2; they’re as challenging as anybody in the country, so we’ll have our hands full in that game. And South Alabama is our rivalry game. We play South on Thursday night (Oct. 20) in Mobile. Later in the year, in our last home game, we host Arkansas State on an ESPN telecast on a Thursday night (Nov. 17). They’ve won three of the last four conference championships. Those are probably the games our fans look to.

NC: What is your lingering question?

NB: It’s been since 2010 that we made a bowl game. We’ve got to get over the hump. We played a lot of close football games last year.  We lost four conference games by six points or less. We’ve got to be able to get over the hump and win some close football games. That’s the point of emphasis for us – finish, get over the hump and get our fans back to a bowl game.

Also in this series: Read Alabama NewsCenter’s interviews with head coaches Reginald Ruffin of Miles College, Bobby Wallace of the University of North Alabama, Brett Gilliland of the University of West Alabama, Eddie Garfinkle of Birmingham-Southern College, Willie Slater of Tuskegee University, Chris Hatcher of Samford University, Joey Jones of the University of South Alabama, James Spady of Alabama A&M University, John Grass of Jacksonville State University and Brian Jenkins of Alabama State University.

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