Ask any player at Michigan State how they feel about Friday night’s season opener at Spartan Stadium and the answers will all be in the same range. From excited to ready to being unable to put the emotions into words, everyone is feeling something strong.
When it comes to A.J. Troup, stepping onto the field against Jacksonville State is going to mean a little bit more. His first game action will mark the first time in almost five years the junior wide receiver will take part in a live game. The most recent time he did – in the Minnesota high school state playoffs in 2009 – he tore his ACL.
He suffered another tear in rehab six months later, one he called “a freak accident,” and a third tear again in the summer of 2013 kept him from playing. But one of the things that kept him going through his third bout with rehab now is on the horizon.
“You are going to have your days that are going to be down, and days that are up,” he said. ”For me, I just think about playing in Spartan Stadium. …
”I have waited a long time for this with the rehab and I am just looking forward to it.”
Troup enters the season listed as the No. 2 X-receiver behind senior Tony Lippett. He figures to be solidly in the playing group and see his first career reception when he gets on the field under the lights, but that is not something he has put much thought into – his mind is more focused on knowing the playbook and be sound with his technique.
”I am just more anxious than anything to get out there and experience what it feels like to play in Spartan Stadium,” he said.
Troup has played on the turf before in East Lansing, having a big spring game in 2013 and drawing a lot of praise through the spring. But he re-tore his ACL for the third time in July 2013, derailing a potentially promising season for the walk-on receiver.
”Obviously, being so close to camp last year and tearing it, I think a month right outside of camp, It was frustrating,” he said.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound receiver said he was helped along by everyone in the Michigan State program, particularly the wide receivers, but his mother back home was instrumental in him pushing through another rehab.
As he got back this summer, he said he started running routes again full speed. There was some hesitation, but as time progressed and more passes were caught, his confidence returned and he got past the mental part of recovery.
“It is hard at first just with the mindset,” he said. “Getting more reps throughout the summer and building that camaraderie with the quarterbacks and the timing and stuff and coming out here daily with other receivers and gaining trust in my knee from going full speed and whatnot.
”I have definitely made big strides from the first day of camp until now. Obviously, I have to get the jitterbugs out from the beginning of camp until now.”
Getting the first hit out of the way helped along the way, especially given that it came toward his knee on the first day of full pads and hitting in preseason camp. Now, he is leaving camp feeling like he is playing with full confidence – in both his knee and his abilities.
“I definitely feel like I’m playing my best football right now and I’ve got full confidence in my knee,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in my game right now.”
But as Friday arrives, Troup holds a great appreciation just for the opportunity to play in a football game again.
”I have sat back for a few years and watched a few seasons,” he said. “To actually play out there and be out there with the guys, it’s going to feel really good.”