Troup linemen lead the way
Published 1:19 pm Thursday, November 1, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It all starts up front.
The Troup Tigers boast one of the state’s most explosive and electrifying offenses.
With junior quarterback Kobe Hudson leading the way, the Tigers have averaged 40 points per game on the way to a 9-0 start.
While the Tigers have play-makers all over the field, including the dynamic Hudson, the Tigers are as effective as they are in large part because of the men up front.
Troup has a veteran, close-knit offensive line, and the ability of those men to either open up running lanes, or give Hudson time to throw, is a key reason the Tigers have been able to move the ball at will against everyone they’ve played.
It is a team within a team, and the offensive linemen embrace that kinship.
“That bond, it’s unreal,” said Gabe Hubbard, a senior left tackle. “We hang out with each other, we do everything together. It helps us do what we do.”
What they do is pave the way for Hudson and company to torment opposing defenses.
The Tigers averaged 38 points per game a year ago, and the offense has been even more productive this season.
It has been mostly the same group of offensive linemen the past two years, and those men aren’t just teammates, they’re close friends.
“Everybody on the offensive line loves each other,” said junior Michael Irvin, the starting right tackle. “We always hang out every weekend. It’s great for us to be together all the time.”
Phillip Manning, Troup’s second-year offensive line coach, said that’s a mindset that he has encouraged and attempted to foster over the past two years.
“When I got here, they never hung out. Now, they’re inseparable almost,” said Manning, who was an offensive lineman at LaGrange College. “You see them hanging around on the weekend. That’s how they’ve got to be. They have to be together. They have to know each other’s thinking. Because that’s how it is on Friday.”
Hunter Bass, the starting right guard, said that closeness helps make those sometimes grueling practices fun.
“Practice is actually pretty enjoyable when you have your closest friends with you,” Bass said. “You get to do a little goofing off every now and then. It makes it more enjoyable instead of it just being grind, grind, grind.”
Troup’s offensive linemen will be put to the test on Friday against a formidable Cartersville defense that has given up 50 points in nine games.
The starters for the game figure to be Gabe Hubbard at left tackle, Steven Messer at left guard, Jay Brodie Messer at center, Hunter Bass at right guard, and Michael Irvin at right tackle.
Colby Harry was the starting left guard earlier in the season before he was sidelined with an injury, but he’ll be back on Friday.
Another Troup player who was injured earlier this year, Will Cooley, is back and provides depth at center, and Tyler Kitchens and Riley Bowles are key members of the offensive line as well.
“We’re not blessed with 6-4 guys up there,” Troup head coach Tanner Glisson said. “Gabe Hubbard is probably the only one that looks like a college offensive lineman. The others are gritty, they’re good technicians at what they do. They work extremely hard in the weight room, and they’re high-character kids. And you can trust them. To me, that’s the biggest thing.”
For an offensive line to succeed, it has to have five players functioning as one, and that’s something Troup’s linemen understand.
“If somebody messes up, we all mess up,” said Jay Brodie Messer. “We all have to be on the same page all the time.”
Bass added that “it really plays a role in being able to trust the person next to you. You really have to depend on them to do their job, so they can do theirs. It really helps out.”
Trust is one thing, but the players also have to be willing to put in the work, and Steven Messer said that hasn’t been an issue.
“We started summer workouts in June, but the offensive line, we’ve been practicing since January,” Messer said. “We’ve made a big improvement. It’s been a lot of work.”
That work has clearly paid dividends, with Troup boasting an offense that is among the state’s best in terms of total yardage, and points per game.
While it’s Hudson, and the talented wide receivers and running backs who often nab the headlines because of the big numbers they amass, the offensive linemen mostly work in anonymity.
Oftentimes the only time an offensive lineman is noticed, in fact, is when he is singled out after committing a penalty.
The good work the linemen do doesn’t go unnoticed, though.
When the Tigers score a touchdown, or come through with a big play, the man with the ball in his hands will often offer his gratitude to the linemen.
“They’ll come over, and they’ll tell us how much they appreciate us,” said Jay Brodie Messer. “They appreciate us blocking for them.”
While the linemen aren’t the ones carrying the ball across the goal line, they can take satisfaction in knowing that they helped spring the play.
“If (a play) succeeds, we all succeed,” Jay Brodie Messer said. “So when that happens, you know that you’re a part of that.”
The Tigers are hoping they’ll be able to celebrate some big plays on Friday night at Weinman Stadium in Cartersville.
If the Tigers win, they’ll post the first perfect regular season in the history of the program while capturing their first region championship in more than 30 years.
It’s been a lengthy and sometimes arduous process to reach this point, but the effort has paid off.
“We started this journey a long time ago,” Manning said. “We put them through the ringer Monday through Thursday, so they can be successful on Friday.”
Whatever happens on Friday, there will be more football to play for the Tigers, who’ll host a state-playoff game next week.
While it’s not a season-ending game, there is plenty on the line, and the players are ready.
“We’re super-excited,” Jay Brodie Messer said. “We’ve been taking it week by week, and it’s finally here.”
No matter the game’s outcome, Bass said the mindset won’t change.
“We’ve been working really hard,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep working, keep grinding.”