Troy football coach Chip Lindsey quipped that if the current COVID-19 situation would have happened last year, “I would probably be pulling whatever hair I have left out.”
Lindsey, now in his second spring with the Trojans, in no way was making light on the deadly virus that grips the world. His coaching efforts right now are first and foremost concentrated on the well-being of his players — emotionally, academically and physically.
But still, Lindsey is certainly thankful his team was able to get in five days of spring football practice before the players departed for spring break on March 5. As it turned out due to the Coronavirus, all athletic activities were canceled for the rest of the spring.
“Getting five practices was a bonus,” Lindsey said. “With us, a lot of newcomers on defense and then the quarterback position — those are two areas we really tried to focus on in recruiting, and I think we did for sure on defense.
“Obviously with quarterback we’re going to have a new starter, and those guys need all the reps they can get.”
Gunnar Watson, Parker McNeil and Jacob Free were considered to be the frontrunners battling for the starting quarterback job during spring. Freshman Kyle Toole will join the mix whenever summer work is able to begin.
What Lindsey seems most excited about after evaluating a week’s worth of practices is what he saw on the defensive side of the football.
“I just think each team has a different personality and I’ve got an idea we’ve really addressed our needs in recruiting, especially on defense,” Lindsey said. “You’re going see seven new bodies in the secondary that we didn’t even have last year, which we needed.
“We have a couple of new D-tackles that I’m excited about. Our linebackers, obviously with Carlton (Martial) and K.J. (Robertson), who played really well for us toward the end of last year, I feel pretty good about that.
“Then you throw in a couple of new guys like Jayden McDonald, who is a linebacker transfer from Iowa, and Richard Jibunor (defensive end), the kid who came from Auburn. Both of those kids sat out last year, so I think our defense will have a whole new look about them and I’m excited about that.”
A number of players also appear to have stepped into leadership roles during the short time period of practice sessions.
“I think Khalil McClain, one of our wideouts, I think he’s a guy that really stepped in that positive, leadership role,” Lindsey said. “Dylan Bradshaw, our center, is another guy that creates a lot of leadership on offense.
“Defensively, Will Choloh (tackle) is a guy who stands out to me. Richard Jibunor is going to be a big leader for us. He’s a new guy, but he’s actually been here a year sitting out, so the players have a lot of respect for his work ethic. And Carlton Martial.
“Another guy that we got back is Terence Dunlap (cornerback who was out last year). I think you’ll see is one of our best leaders on the entire team.”
As much as anything, Lindsey was pleased with the effort he saw on the field.
“The thing I noticed the most, I think, was just the positive energy,” Lindsey said. “Our motto this year is going to be ‘Trojan Tough’ and I felt like we needed to emphasize that. I think our players bought into that.
“We also have a new strength coach (Rusty Whitt) that I think has made a huge difference. He’s kind of helped me set that mindset in the winter program.”
Though the players are now away from campus and having to take classes online due to COVID-19, Lindsey said he and his assistants have been in daily contact.
“We’ve been in communication with them via text and FaceTime with their position coach and making sure we talk to them every single day and put eyes on them with FaceTime,” Lindsey said.
“Because you want to check on their mental health as well as make sure they don’t have the virus and kind of look them in the eye. We’re just trying to make sure we keep them focused, especially on school and academics.
“We need to make sure they’re making great social decisions, and that somehow they stay in shape. Not being able to go to the gym you’ve got to have creative ways of getting that done. Really just trying to create a positive attitude and understand that everybody is dealing with the same issues.
“When we get back together, we’ll move forward and make the best out of this situation.”
Once the team is allowed to return to the practice field this summer, Lindsey knows the players will have a lot of catching up to do.
“I think this summer is going to be huge for us getting these guys back in shape and ready to practice,” Lindsey said. “We can’t not have them in shape and hurt in practice. We’ve got to make sure we do a great job of training them and I know Rusty (Whitt) has a great plan for that.”
“Obviously now we’ve got this bump in the road with the Coronavirus, but I think our guys will be fine. We’ve just got to make sure we stay on task and complete all the academic work.”
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