TROY – After recruiting season, spring practice, summer workouts and preseason camp, it feels like the end of the buildup to the Troy Trojans season opener.
More importantly, it’s the beginning of the Chip Lindsey era. The Trojans open at home against Campbell with a 5 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“It’s really exciting to me, because Troy is the first place that I was able to be a college football coach under coach (Larry) Blakeney,” Lindsey said at his Tuesday press conference.
He was quarterbacks coach for Blakeney in the 2010 season. It will be his debut as a college head coach. He’s been an offensive coordinator at Southern Mississippi, Arizona State and, for the past two seasons, Auburn.
“It’s an opportunity to coach in my home state, so it’s an honor to be the head coach at Troy,” Lindsey said. “I’m excited to lead our team onto the field and watch them compete against another team.
“Obviously, I take a lot of pride in being the head coach here. This is a great university. I’m looking forward to bringing them through Trojan Walk and getting out on the field and running through the ‘T’ on Saturday.”
He’s not going out there alone. Troy is expected to compete for the Sun Belt Conference championship on the strength of talented returning players, including linebacker Carlton Martial at linebacker and Preseason Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year B.J. Smith at running back.
Quarterback Kaleb Barker, who started the first six games in last season’s 10-3 campaign before suffering a season-ending knee injury, is back leading the attack. Four of the five offensive linemen are returning starters.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment since spring. We’re excited to go out and play for coach Lindsey,” Smith said. “We’re anxious to get on the field but we still have to keep things in perspective and do what we have to do to prepare this week.”
Smith winced at last year’s disappointing opening loss to Boise State in Troy.
“We learned from that experience,” the running back said. “Last year there was a lot of excitement. We were all ready, ready, ready – and we went out and laid a goose egg. We definitely don’t want that to happen this year. We’re taking it in stride.”
Junior center Dylan Bradshaw, the only new starter on that offensive front, said players understand how big this game is for Lindsey.
“Any time you get your first start as a head coach, that’s a milestone. All coaches have milestones in their lives,” Bradshaw said. “You’re a coordinator for so many years. When you’re the head ball coach, it’s big time. I know he wants to produce.”
To be sure, few will confuse Campbell with Boise State. The Fighting Camels are in their second season of scholarship football as members of the FCS Big South after playing in the non-scholarship Pioneer League since 2008. Mike Minter, in his seventh season, is a former Nebraska player who also played in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers, Lindsey said.
“I think he’s doing a great job because you can see his fingerprints all over their defense,” Troy’s coach said. “Campbell is an up-and-coming program and they have some really talented players. When you look at their roster and the type of team they’re building, I think they’re doing an excellent job.”
Troy is expecting a spread offense and coaches praised several of their skill players, several of whom are transfers from D-I schools – as is often the case when a smaller school transitions up in classification.
Lindsey called Campbell’s 6-4, 200-pound receiver Caleb Snead a playmaker. Quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams is a freshman who started his career at Army but transferred out. He will be a run-pass threat. Running back C.J. Freeman (5-11, 215) was hurt last season, but returns.
“And their whole offensive line is all 300 pounds,” Lindsey said. “There are going to be a big team. They are going to look great out there and we are going to have to be ready to rise to the challenge to be able to defend those guys.”
He said defensive end Damien Dozier (6-4, 225) anchors their defense. The Camels also have a 6-foot-9, 315-pound defensive tackle, Terence Harper, who can be disruptive. Kam Prewitt from Birmingham is a talented cornerback.
“They have some good playmakers on both sides of the ball,” Lindsey said. “They have guys that are athletic, can make plays and our guys have to be ready to go.”
He is confident they will be.
“I want to see our team play a clean game – not a lot of penalties, especially pre-snap penalties,” the coach said. “Those are the ones that really keep you from being explosive. They put you in long yardage situations, which we don’t want to do that.
“Our goal is be good on third downs, be good in the red zones, to create explosive plays. I think if we do those things and not have negative plays, then you will have a good offense.”
Lindsey said there are unknowns that the Trojans will have to confront, but he made it clear his likes his team.
“I have seen a group of guys that have a passion for Troy,” he said. “The guys that are here love being here and they love getting on the field at the Vet and playing in front of our fans.
“What I hope you see is a team that is excited to play and excited to compete. We only get 12 guaranteed opportunities and we have to make sure we take advantage of each and every one of them.”