TROY – There wasn’t much mystery surrounding Troy’s starting running back coming into the season.
B.J. Smith was a 1,000-yard rusher last season and is the Sun Belt Conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
But a new coaching staff was eager to find depth at that position.
“In college football, it’s hard to rely on one guy anymore – especially when you snap the ball 80, 90 times a game, one guy can’t play all those snaps,” Trojans head coach Chip Lindsey said.
Jabir Daughtry-Frye had the second-most carries (53) and yards (383) at running back last season. Then-redshirt freshman DK Billingsley was next with 35 carries and 148 yards.
“I got here in the spring and (Billingsley) was a little bit unknown,” Lindsey said. ‘He had an outstanding spring and really caught my eye. I knew B.J. was going to be a solid, really good player. Frye really impressed me with his pass protection and running inside the tackles.
“But DK was a guy all spring who kept showing up. He had a couple of good scrimmages and he has continued to grow. He’s a smart guy. Any time you get smart players, they’re always going to have a chance. He’s a smart guy, he’s talented and it means a lot to him. I think you’ll see him get better and better as the year goes.”
Billingsley, a third-year sophomore from Scottsboro, had an impressive season opener two weeks ago against Campbell. Billingsley gained 86 yards on 12 carries and scored his first two career touchdowns at Troy. His first TD came on the goal line late in the third quarter. The second was an explosive 38-yard run that provided the game’s final touchdown in Troy’s 43-14 victory.
“It was an amazing feeling,” the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Billingsley said. “Working all spring, all summer, get the opportunity to get out there and get on the field, show the coaches what I had, getting two touchdowns – I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.”
He said his development in the passing game – both as a receiver and a pass protector – have been his two biggest growth areas since spring.
“Head coaches and offensive coordinators get a little scared having to put a young back in. ‘Is he going to know who he’s got to get? If he doesn’t have anyone, is he going to be able to get out of the backfield and make a catch and get the first down or be explosive with the ball?’” Billingsley said.
“I’ve gotten a lot better (overall). My ability just to run the ball, that hasn’t altered. I believe I’ve gotten better at it, with my eyes, hitting holes and learning how to break tackles. But being able to catch the ball and running protection schemes have improved a lot.”
Offensive coordinator Ryan Pugh said Troy coaches noticed that progress.
“I think that we saw this maturation process of him really stepping into his own in spring, summer and fall camp,” Pugh said. “That was a really bright spot for us and we feel really great about it. I think that is why he was able to see the amount of plays he got in the game. I think they understand that when you continue to improve we aren’t afraid to put you out there and play.”
Lindsey said he expects to see similar rotations with the backs – with Smith, Billingsley, Frye and true freshman Jamontez Woods, who carried four times for 25 yards against Campbell.
“I think we’re going to need B.J., DK as well as Frye and possibly even Jamontez,” the coach said. “I think all three or four of those guys will have an impact as the season goes.”
Billingsley said Troy was his only offer out of Scottsboro High. Well, it’s the only offer he knew about.
He attended a satellite camp in Decatur just before his senior year in high school. Neal Brown offered him a scholarship.
“I committed, like, a week later,” Billingsley said. “I just closed down recruiting. I didn’t really talk to nobody else.”
He said his mother clinched it on a visit to Troy.
“She really loved the campus. She said it was beautiful,” he said. “I was close to home, but not too close.”
Once he committed, that was it.
“I just stopped talking to teams,” he said. “I had a really successful senior year, so offers could have kept coming, but I wasn’t interested in talking to anyone else.”
In fact, he went to his coach, Patrick Nix, and told him he was done talking.
“He said if any schools come to me, I won’t come tell you since you want to be all in with Troy. That was the deal,” Billingsley said.
Big response: Troy fans have given early indications that Saturday’s crowd for the Southern Miss game will be big. There are tickets remaining, but a couple areas have solid out.
“We sold out of the North End Zone for the Southern Miss game. We sold out of Tailgate Terrace,” Troy director of athletics Brent Jones said Tuesday. “Our fans are really excited. They can still purchase tickets. We have tickets available throughout the stadium.”
Troy has two special promotions set for Saturday, its annual Band Day and Letterwinners Day.
“We’re going to have almost 1,000 high school students as part of Band Day, to be on the field at halftime as part of that,” Jones said. “We have over 100 letterwinners coming back. We’ve got almost 35 players from the 1984 national championship, including head coach Chan Gailey, coming back. And we just released the great (throwback) helmet to national acclaim.
“We’re also recognizing the 2009 team with a few members coming back, as well as coach Larry Blakeney. To have 100 of these letterwinners be on the field introduced and recognized between the first and second quarter is a pretty special deal.”