Troy State Offense Beginning To Make Noise

Marshall renews another rivalry from the I-AA days when the Herd plays the Trojans of Troy State this Saturday at 7:00 p.m. (EDT). It will be, however, Marshall's first trip to Troy, Alabama, and first game played at Movie Gallery Stadium. All other games having been played in Huntington where MU leads the series, 3-0.

Larry Blakeney was hired in 1991 to take the reins at Troy State and has amassed a 103-44-1 mark since then. 1993 was the Trojans first year at the I-AA level, moving up from Division II. They moved up to Division I-A in 2001 and will join the Sun Belt Conference as a full member in 2004. Blakeney won three Southland Conference titles between 1993 and 2000, advancing to the I-AA playoffs six times and losing in the semi-finals twice. The game with Marshall will be Larry Blakeney's 150th game as the head man at Troy State. Blakeney has new faces playing and three new assistant coaches this season.

It will be game number two at renovated Movie Gallery Stadium, one of the great names for a facility in college football. $18 million dollars have raised the capacity to 30,000, an increase of 12,000 from 2002. AstroPlay turf has been installed, making it one of the first stadiums in the South with this surface. A state-of-the-art press box facility has been included in the renovation and it will feature 27 skyboxes. The stadium was christened last weekend when Southeastern Louisiana came to town. SLU just restarted its program after 18 years without football, and Herd fans might remember John Gregory transferred to MU in 1986 after SLU dropped its program. Marshall will be the initial I-A opponent to play in Movie Gallery Stadium since the renovation and only the second I-A program to play in Troy (the Mean Green of North Texas won the final game of the 2001 season in Troy, 18-16).

Coming off an important win against UAB the previous week, 20-9, the Trojans christened the renovated stadium this past Saturday with a bang, shutting out SLU 28-0, the first shutout for Troy State since beating Nichols State 26-0 at home on September 22, 2001. Aaron Leak hit Jason Samples with a three-yard touchdown pass with one second left in the first quarter gave the Trojans a lead that was never challenged. The nation's 115th (of 117) rated offense, in last week's rankings, rolled up 260 yards rushing, while holding the Lions to only 26 yards on the ground, although Southeast Louisiana rolled up 258 yards through the air. Troy State passed for 237 on the first-year, I-AA program, totaling 454 yards of total offense. Jermaine Richardson rushed 11 times for 110 yards, while Leak hit on 12-of-22 for 237 yards and three touchdowns. He also was sacked twice and threw two interceptions.

Troy State finished 2002 4-8 and are looking to rebound with a number of youngsters starting on both offense and defense. Quarterback was not one of those positions, as last year's 12-game starter, Hansell Bearden (6-2, 202), returned for his junior season. Bearden, however, has been moved to the second team by another junior, junior college transfer Aaron Leak (6-3, 220), who played at Jones County Community College and was the fifteenth-best JUCO quarterback in the nation in 2002. Another junior college quarterback, Franco Johnson (6-1, 198), is third team this season and may red-shirt. Leak has thrown 69 times this year, completing 31 for 427 yards. He has thrown for three scores, all coming in the game with SLU, and has five interceptions.

Backup running back DeWhitt Betterson (6-0, 218), who rushed to 710 yards last year and five touchdowns on 101 carries, is the starter for the Trojans. He has rushed for 244 yards rushing so far in 2003 with one score. His backup is true freshman Jermaine Richardson (6-0, 190), who now has 196 yards on the year after 110 this weekend. The fullback is a returning starter, undersized but effective Chris Cox (5-8, 210), a fifth-year senior who does not have any carries this year. He is key to making the "I-formation" work, as the Trojans have jettisoned the spread offense Marshall saw in 2002.

On the offensive line, three starters do not return, the expected starter at center who was hurt all of 2002 did not return and neither does the top backup from 2002. The right side did return. Right guard will again be junior Donnie Bostian (6-6, 321) and right tackle position will be two-year letter winner and senior Branden Hall (6-3, 329). The new starters on the O-Line include junior center Lee Milliner (6-3, 275), junior college transfer at left guard, Junior Louissaint (6-1, 277), and junior left tackle Henry Tellis (6-5, 309), who has lettered two years in a backup role. The offensive front averages 6-3.5 in height, 302 pounds per man among the starters on the line. Throw in backups like true freshman center James Gardner (6-3, 308) and red-shirt freshman tackle Kenny Griffin (6-3, 302) and you have a massive, but inexperience, offensive line.

At receiver, starting junior Jason Samples (6-0, 196) is back for Troy State at the "Z" position. He caught only seven passes for 66 yards in 2002, but through four games has 22 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns, both against SLU. At the other flanker, or "X" position, there is a battle for playing time between sophomore Toris Rutledge (6-0, 187), three catches for 29 yards so far, and junior college transfer Bryant Stewart (5-11, 204), who grabbed three passes for 114 yards and one score this past weekend. Stewart caught 80 passes for 1,374 yards and 16 touchdowns at Reedley Junior College in California in 2002. Rutledge had seven catches for 67 yards as a backup at Troy State last season. The tight end is a three-year letter winner, fifth-year senior and returning three-year starter, Adrian Moore (6-1, 237), who did not catch a pass Saturday and has five for 47 yards to date. He caught 10 passes for 76 yards last year as Moore returned from knee surgery that made him miss the 2001 season.

Coming up Thursday: Defense.

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