TROY – Troy’s first practice of camp Friday morning had just ended and Trojans head coach Chip Lindsey made sure he visited with several players before they left the practice field.
He huddled briefly with first-team offensive linemen Kirk Kelley, Austin Stidham, Tristan Crowder, J.L. Gaston and Dylan Bradshaw.
“They’re extremely important. They’re some of the big-time leaders on our team,” Lindsey said. “We have four guys coming back that have started in that offensive line. They’re a really hard-working group. They do a great job. They take pride doing their job the right way.”
As explosive as Troy’s skill players are – and the eye-popping, playmaking ability of running back B.J. Smith, quarterback Kaleb Barker and receivers Reggie Todd, Khalil McLain, Luke Whittemore and Demontrez Brown was on full display on Friday – the offensive line holds the key to making that talent look good.
“We’re going to have a really good team up front. We’re going to have a really good team, period. We’re going to have a good year,” the left tackle Stidham said.
It is an experienced and consistent unit. The only man missing from last year’s offensive line is Deontae Crumitie, who was a four-year starter mostly at center. His likely replacement, Bradshaw, an Enterprise product, is a familiar face. The 6-3, 306-pound junior played a lot in 2018.
Bradshaw started against Texas State at left guard and was the starting center in Troy’s bowl game against Buffalo as Crumitie finished at right guard.
“We lost Deontae, but we have Dylan Bradshaw coming up,” Stidham said. “He’s going to be a really good player for us.”
Gaston, a 6-4, 290-pound senior, started every game at right tackle and was on the All-Sun Belt third team.
Crowder, a 6-4, 330-pound senior, started every game at right guard except the bowl game.
Kelley, a 6-4, 330-pound senior, started 11 games at left guard, missing the Florida A&M and Texas State games. Kelley missed spring practice recovering from a postseason procedure, but was ready to go Friday. Kelley was a preseason first-team All-Sun Belt player.
Stidham, a 6-5, 288-pound sophomore from Russellville, started every game at left tackle last year as a redshirt freshman. He was Troy’s highest-graded pass blocker by Pro Football Focus last season. He allowed one sack, seven pressures, four hurries and two hits all season.
Stidham said before camp even opened that one of the challenges will be to keep this week’s enthusiasm going.
“Everybody’s excited on the first day. Everybody’s going to be pumped up to get out there, everybody’s going to be ready to go,” he said. “But you have to keep this energy for these four weeks until game time. Really focus, lock in and get everything done that you need to get done.
“I think we have a really energetic team, a really young team, but I think everybody’s going to be ready to go when we strap those pads on Aug. 31.”
Stidham said the first few days will be about “getting the foundation nice and laid.” He said it’s not like the Trojans are starting from scratch.
“We had all spring and the new guys had all summer to get through everything. We’ve got a lot of the foundation laid already,” he said. “This first week will be install, getting everything back to going, then we’ll start game planning and getting ready.”
Stidham took some good-natured ribbing in stride when a Troy official playfully posted his photo next to the South Park character “PC Principal.” His teammates went crazy. The only problem is, Stidham doesn’t watch South Park.
“To be honest, I had to look that up when he tagged me in that,” the player said. “I had no idea. I was like, ‘I guess I see the resemblance.’ So I had to look it up. I mean, it was funny.
“I was like, ‘Golly, you had to tag me in something like this and put it online.’ But it’s all fun.”
Troy linebacker Carlton Martial said Stidham is one of the smartest players on the team.
Lindsey said the tackle’s work “has been great.”
“Austin Stidham’s one of our leaders on offense, for sure,” Lindsey said.