How an early Hail Mary loss ended up being the turning point

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    40″/ > Pete Thamel, ESPNJun 8, 2023, 10:00 AM ET TROY, Ala.– Take a spin through this town of 18,000 that hosts Sun Belt football champion Troy University, and there’s the familiar trappings of charming Americana.A looming water tower that brags “House of the Trojans “functions as the horizon. Throughout the street from Troy University’s football facility is”Station house No. 2, “which lies nearby to the National Guard building.There’s an authentic small-town feel, with both

    head coach Jon Sumrall and athletic director Brent Jones happily driving oversized pickup. And it’s matched by a simple pace as getting dinner after 9 p.m. functions as a fourth-and-17 longshot.The just smaller American towns with FBS football programs are West Point, New York, and Clemson, South Carolina. And as Troy University has evolved from a Division II power to seven-time Sun Belt champion in the past twenty years, it has revealed a historical knack for its success to belie the modest surroundings.When football season begins in three months, Troy University will go into with the nation’s second-longest winning streak.

    The Trojans rattled off 11 straight wins to finish the 2022 season under first-year coach Sumrall, and they trail only defending national champ Georgia, which has won 17 in a row.How did little Troy, Alabama, ended up being house to one of the college football’s longest winning streaks?”It starts with the belief and with the question, ‘Why not Troy?'”chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. told ESPN.”If you are going to do it, be strong about it.”In Sumrall’s launching season, the Trojans authored what he calls a”modest “12-2 record. Troy ended up No. 19 in the nation, the school’s best-ever finish in the Associated Press poll, and the school’s seven-win enhancement was the 3rd biggest in the sport last year.When peering back through some of the nation’s terrific program flips in the last generation, there’s a thread that typically runs through them. Often it’s a scheme change that provides a seismic advantage or a transcendent player who raises the program.At Troy, that competitive advantage emerged by the team galvanizing after the season’s most gutting loss. The Trojans quit a final-second Hail Mary to Appalachian State and then spackled together 11 straight wins.

    “If that minute doesn’t occur, I do not believe we have possibly quite the year we had,”Sumrall told ESPN. “Do we win enough to have a good year? Sure. But I do not understand that we have the special year we had.”Maybe most remarkable, six of those wins came by seven points or less. No group in college football won that many games by 6 or less given that 2018, per ESPN Stats & Info. The thread running through Troy’s turn-around was creativity in figuring out methods to win.And as Sumrall, 40, enters his second season, the trajectory once again matches the expectations of a program that won football national titles in NAIA(1968 )and Department II (1984 and 1987).”This is not a location where football resembles a side hustle,” Sumrall said,”or something that they like to do on Saturdays just to have a reason to have a tailgate.” In his very first season at

    the helm, Sumrall led Troy to its very first bowl victory since 2018. Picture by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire WHEN JON SUMRALL drives his four kids to school in the early morning, there’s a familiarback-and-forth pep talk with the team that varies in age from 4 to 9. Jon: Provide your finest … Kids: EFFORT! Jon: No matter … Kids: WHAT!Jon: No Matter … Kids: CIRCUMSTANCE!He chuckles after he relays the scene:”They most likely get a little fed up with me doing it and look at me like I’m a wacky dad.

    “That exact same smile go back to

    Sumrall’s face

    when he communicates his

    favorite statistic from his 9-year-old child, Sam, in a basketball game this year.” I don’t know that he’s the

    most skilled player, but he’s going to try and utilize all his fouls.”Sumrall’s parenting tenets match his training approach. The same principles of unified chanting and relentless effort quickly funnelled into the team at Troy when Sumrall took over in December of 2021. Sumrall showed up from Kentucky– where he coached the within linebackers group for 2 years prior to transferring to co-defensive coordinator in 2021– with a background that doesn’t check the common boxes athletic directors and search companies search for. He wasn’t a play-calling coordinator, didn’t have head coaching experience and wasn’t atop numerous hot coach lists. But what Sumrall did bring to Troy was familiarity and fit, as he ‘d been a top assistant under then-Trojans coach Neal Brown from 2015-17.”We required a tested fit,”Hawkins said.”Both Jon and his better half(Ginny)liked Troy and thought in Troy. They were a perfect fit.” He ‘d been a vibrant employer there, including finalizing Carlton Martial, who returned for a sixth year in 2022 to bet Sumrall and became the college football’s all-time leading tackler.Editor’s Picks 2 Related And when Troy athletic director Brent Jones surveyed the group about what was required in the wake of three straight losing seasons under Chip Lindsey, it stood apart to him that the players stated they wanted a leader who had actually hold them accountable.”The program needed energy, strength, accountability and connection,”Jones stated.”And if you look at the lifeblood of any program it’s recruiting, and Jon is among the very best recruiting

    coaches in

    the nation. The reason for that is his energy.”The players felt the adrenaline jolt right away. Veteran center Jake Andrews, who went on to be a fourth-round choice by the New England Patriots in the 2023 NFL draft, stated the connection showed instant.” You can just inform he cares, “Andrews said.” Often he talks about football and he chokes up a little bit. You can simply inform it simply matters to him.” Soon enough, that sensation spread throughout the program. Outsiders observed how much more extreme

    spring practice and summer camp were compared to past year. Sumrall scoffed, as he felt things were moving slow.The same ambiance that Sumrall drew from an overachieving player at Kentucky– he was a linebacker for the Wildcats from 2002-04– exposed itself in a coaching course that ping-ponged him from San Diego to Tulane to Troy to Ole Miss and back to his alma matter over the previous 18

    years.”I want to continuously put life in people,” he stated. “That’s, I believe, how you get individuals fired up about what they’re doing is by having positive energy. I believe you have to be genuine to who you are.

    “As the season unfolded, that ambiance permeated through the players.” He makes you want to bet the rest of your teammates,” Andrews said.”We had men in the locker room that quite literally would probably crave each other. “THERE’S AN spooky quiet that ensconces any losing locker room.

    The ripping of ankle tape cuts through the silence like an air horn. Discussion rarely escalates above a mumble.And on Sept. 17, that’s exactly the macabre scene Sumrall experienced when he entered the cramped visiting locker space at Kidd Brewer Arena in Boone, North Carolina. Troy had actually bossed around host Appalachian State throughout the day, providing a haymaker to all the good vibes from the Mountaineers ‘upset of Texas A&M the previous week.Troy took an intentional safety with 20 seconds remaining to cut its own cause 28-26 and kicked off. On 4th down following 3 incomplete App State passes from its own 47-yard line, Chase Brice’s Hail Mary was caught by Christian Horn at the 5-yard line and ran in with 2 seconds left. play 0:46 Touchdown! Kimani Vidal ratings vs. Appalachian State Touchdown! Kimani Vidal ratings vs. Appalachian State Sumrall understood it as the play unfolded, getting the worst type of remembrance from being on the sideline as a Kentucky player when the

    Wildcats lost the Bluegrass Wonder game to LSU back in 2002.” As the ball is in the air,”he stated, “I type of noticed it didn’t feel right.”Sumrall generally consults with his coaches before addressing his team postgame. But after making certain all the Troy players got to the locker room securely from the field storming, he didn’tsquander at any time.”We have a choice to make from what kind of turning point this is,”he remembered stating. “I strongly believe this. We’re going to make this the turning point of Troy football. This is not completion of something, if we handle it the proper way. It’s the start of something unique. “He now jokes that he wasn’t quite sure if he believed his own pep talk.In the group meeting the following Monday, he told them they weren’t enabled to say

    the words App State the rest of the season. He also banned green in the structure since it’s the colors of Marshall, the next challenger. The Roaring Herd were 2 weeks removed from beating No. 8 Notre Dame in South Bend.Troy won that game 16-7 in a program of resiliency. Few expected it would start a championship run that included 4 consecutive wins by less than a touchdown., The highlight of the streak came when Troy erased a 17-0 third-quarter deficit versus Louisiana to win 23-17 on the road before topping the run with a 10-9 win

    over Army in your home– the very first sell-out of Veterans Memorial Arena in

    school history.”They simply got to a location where they expected to win,”said Louisiana coach Michael Desormeaux. “They had experienced players who went out and declined to lose. They generally stated, ‘We’re just going to play hard football and put ourself in position at the end. ‘”After all those close games, perhaps the most significant surprise of the season came at the tenor of the Sun Belt title game versus Coastal Carolina. Troy jumped out 31-0 en route to a 45-26 win. It marked a fitting coda from the devastation because locker room after the league opener to a last fitting scene.”To see the goalposts boil down,” Jones said,” confetti falling from the sky and to see coach Sumrall lift that trophy and state,’Troy football is back,’it’s quite powerful.”TROY RETURNS THE kind of lineup that might provide another conference champ, with 7 returning offensive starters, consisting of star tailback Kimani Vidal( 1,132 yards in 2015), steady quarterback Gunnar Watson and star receiver Jabre Barber, who is back

    from injury. On defense, Troy has six returning starters– consisting of star corner Reddy Steward and linchpin nose tackle Buddha Jones– from the country’s No. 8 scoring defense (17.1 ppg). After three straight losing seasons and a 4-9 record in one-score games throughout that span, Troy attacked the information with enthusiasm. They emerged as a calloused group that bonded together to raise Troy into the conversation with some of the top teams in college football.It marked an accident of a group matching the interest of a school

    that’s long held strong aspirations.”These people care deeply about football, “Sumrall stated.

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