TROY – One of the surprises of Troy’s preseason camp, cornerback O’Shai Fletcher won’t be taking weekend road trips this season.
Redshirted last season, Fletcher and roommate Demontrez Brown would take trips to other schools when the Trojans were out of town.
“Auburn, Tuskegee, Bama, we went back home sometimes,” Fletcher said, noting he’s from Huntsville and Brown is from Madison.
No Troy road games?
“No, we saw them enough,” Fletcher said, a smile crossing his face.
If there was a “blinking light” position that had Troy coaches’ attention coming into preseason camp, it likely was at cornerback.
After all, four of last year’s top five corners aren’t in the mix this season, including the three with the most starting experience – Marcus Jones (transfer), Blace Brown (graduation) and Terence Dunlap (academics).
Troy’s depth chart has senior Will Sunderland, a transfer from Oklahoma, and Fletcher in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game against Campbell.
Cornerbacks coach Ray Brown, whose work has earned praise from defensive coordinator Brandon Hall and head coach Chip Lindsey, talked about both players at the team’s media day earlier this month.
“Will Sunderland is just an athletic freak. He looks different than everybody else,” Brown said of the 6-foot-4, 196-pound senior from Midwest City, Okla. “Will’s really athletic, extremely long, he’s got pretty good ball skills, he can be physical when he wants to be. It’s just staying on him about the little things and being good every day.”
The surprise might be Fletcher, the 5-11, 166-pound former standout at Randolph School in Huntsville.
“Fletcher has had an unbelievable fall camp,” Brown said. “I think that guy is doing a good job. Every day I notice something he’s trying to do. He’s taken the drill work and he’s shown it in his play. He’ll come back and play the next play. If you get him on a play, he’s going to fight to get you on the next one. That guy, he continues to go.”
Hall loves Fletcher’s tenacity.
“I’ve really been impressed with Fletch. He’s fighting. He gives up plays but I love his fire,” Hall said after a practice.
Fletcher said having a short memory is a must for a corner.
“That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned from last year to this year,” Fletcher said. “Being a DB, you’re going to get beat sometimes. You’re going to get beat because you don’t know what the wide receiver is going to do, but they know.
“It’s really a next-play mentality. Coach Brown always says, ‘Play the play, day by day.’ If you mess up this play, bounce back the next play. My main goal is to make sure that every play I’m giving all I got. If I get beat or if I don’t, just come back and give it all I got.”
With so much inexperience at the position, Fletcher said he was glad coaches gave everybody first-team reps in the preseason. He said the competition definitely made him better.
“My teammates in the corner room pushed me to bring out the best in me,” he said. “I knew every day that I had to put my best foot forward.
“Coach Brown did a great job making it a competition. He held out on us, gave somebody a shot this day with the 1s, somebody else this day with the 1s. I thank him and my fellow corners for helping me reach this point.”
True freshman Reddy Steward and senior Jawon McDowell are the listed 2s and will play a lot. Orlando Lacey, Craig Slocum and versatile freshman Dell Pettus – who could play safety, corner or nickel – may also be in the rotation.
“I think we’re planning to play at least six corners,” Fletcher said. “Any of the six guys on that field, there won’t be a letdown. We’re all prepared to be starters. They’re going to do what they’re supposed to do and do their job. They’re going to play with effort. We’re all going to give effort. We’re going to be all right, whoever we put out there.”
Hall said Fletcher eventually separated himself by being able to finish plays.
“You can say what you want, but it’s a one-on-one battle at the end of the day on every play,” the coordinator said. “For us, (it was) finding guys who have good ball skills that have good timing and getting their hands (in good position).
“He’s worked really hard at that. He’s got really good ball skills and he runs really well. He’s got good transition. We need him to have a really good year, obviously, same as Will. We don’t have the depth we would like to have. We’ve got some young guys playing, but those guys are talented.”
Asked what he thought put him over the top, Fletcher said it was a dedication to being physical.
“I’m not the biggest corner, so I had to be more physical,” he said. “Going against the big receivers we have, it brought a little more aggression for me. Focusing on details, stepping this way, being in the right position, I feel like I locked in on my details and got better at my technique.”
He credited his friend and roommate, the 6-foot-3 Brown, and receivers 6-5 Reggie Todd and 6-4 Khalil McClain for the competition they provide every day.
“Him (Brown) coming in, we just made a promise to each other that every day we’re going to try to make each other better,” Fletcher said. “Him and Reggie, they can do it all. There’s nothing they can’t do, and the speed. There’s nothing I haven’t seen going against them. They’ve prepared me to go against any receiver.”