Troup ready to jump into season
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
They’ve come a long way.
When the Troup Tigers were preparing for the 2015 season, new head coach Tanner Glisson had a feeling it was going to be a bumpy ride.
Sure enough, Troup went 1-9, and it had to beat Whitewater in the final game to avoid a winless season.
Now, as the Tigers get ready for their season opener against the Ridgeland Panthers, the program has undergone a 180-degree shift.
Three years ago, Glisson was wondering if his team would win a game.
On Friday, he’ll lead a team onto the field that appears to have all of the pieces in place to make a run at a state championship.
It’s a veteran team coming off a 9-3 season, led by a gifted and committed group of seniors who have been with Glisson since his arrival in 2015.
On Friday night at Ridgeland, Troup will begin a season that has a chance to continue into December when the semifinal and championship games will be played.
“You don’t get to that point by looking ahead. You look one week at a time, one game at a time, one day at a time,” Glisson said. “But those goals and aspirations are there. We talk about it. But it’s not unique. We talk about it every year. But once the season starts it’s one game at a time, trying to get there.”
This will be Glisson’s final season with a senior class that means a lot to him.
Most of the seniors were freshmen on that 2015 team, and a handful of them ended up getting some playing time as the season rolled along.
Glisson appreciates them as players, and also has tremendous respect and regard for them as people.
“It is a very special group,” Glisson said. “It’s a group we’re real close to. We can talk about things in our facility that (other teams) couldn’t talk about. We can talk about certain issues, things going on with our program, and know that it’s a safe zone for the kids to communicate with the coaches. And it’s going to be taken the right way. That trust has been built up over time.”
Glisson added that “they’re used to our coaching style. They know what our consequences are. And they know how much we’re going to love on them and brag on them. So it’s a win-win.”
One of those seniors is linebacker King Mwikuta, a talented player who has verbally committed to the University of Alabama.
Glisson has watched Mwikuta grow not only as a football player, but as a person, and that gives him immense satisfaction.
“Yes he’s got some God-given ability, but he worked, and worked, and worked, on all phases of his life,” Glisson said. “He had every reason to fail, and give up, and not do, or be frustrated, or listen to the wrong advice. But he stayed the course. We put a plan together, and he agreed to it, and we held him accountable. And I can’t say enough good things. He’s just a great, great success story. And it’s not over.”
Mwikuta didn’t play as a freshman, but he’s a three-year starter, and he’ll be an anchor of a defense that figures to be formidable this season.
“When coach G came, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Mwikuta said. “He said we’ve got one job to do, and everybody stuck with it.”
While Mwikuta didn’t play in 2015, he was a part of that team that nearly went winless.
Those players forged a bond that season that has only grown stronger.
“From where we were and where we’ve come to, I love all of them,” Mwikuta said.
Like most of the starters, Mwikuta has a lot of game experience under the lights.
Troup lost a handful of starters from last year’s team, including all-state quarterback Montez Crowe, but the bulk of the key players are back.
On offense, junior Kobe Hudson is stepping in to replace Crowe, and he threw for more than 200 yards with a pair of touchdowns in the first half of a preseason game against Northside-Columbus.
Hudson is surrounded by plenty of play-makers, including senior wide receiver Jamari Thrash, who had nearly 1,500 receiving yards with 18 touchdown catches last season.
Also back are wide receivers Mark-Anthony Dixon and Ja’Rell Smith, as well as running back Trey Williams and Tyree Carlisle.
Troup also has a veteran and deep offensive line, with five players returning who either started or saw significant playing time last year.
Among those players are Gabe Hubbard, Michael Irvin, Jay Brodie Messer, Riley Bowles and Hunter Bass.
Troup has most of the key men back on defense as well, including linebacker Kevin Martin, the team’s leading tackler the past two seasons.
Also back are Mwikuta and Joko Willis, who have both been starting for two seasons on the defensive line.
Defensive linemen Andy Boykin and Kaliff Thornton also return, as do defensive backs Nick Ligon and Alonzo Ogletree.
While Troup has a talented group of starters, Glisson said the team has plenty of depth as well.
“We have enough depth now where we can play probably 21, 22 people on defense, and 18 or 19 on offense,” Glisson said. “You start talking about you can play 40 people, and that’s not including special teams. So you start doing that, that’s some quality depth.”
When Troup hits the field on Friday night, everyone will be available.
“We’re coming in pretty healthy,” Glisson said. “As of today, everybody will be ready to go on Friday. We’re ready to get started and kick this thing off.”