A.J. Troup came into Friday night unsure if he would get his first career reception.
After not having played in a live game in around five years, the Michigan State wide receiver mostly was just wanting to get back on the field and play.
But when Connor Cook came up to the line of scrimmage and called an audible, changing the play from a designed run to a fade route to Troup in the end zone, he got more than just a catch – he got a highlight-worthy touchdown grab he did not expect.
Troup went up and made an acrobatic catch over the Jacksonville State safety, giving the Spartans a 21-0 lead in their 45-7 win.
“I dreamed it up like that, but no I didn’t have any idea,” he said. “The fact my first play, first catch and my first touchdown was all in the same play is very special.”
It was the first game action for the junior at Michigan State with a five-year gap in games due to three ACL tears, the first two in his senior year of high school. So in a sense, being on the field was enough Friday night. A catch would have been a bonus, but a touchdown was not really a thought for him – even when Cook called the audible.
”It all just happened so fast,” he said. “I just saw the ball in the air and I tried to high point it and get my foot in and the rest happened. …
”It was just a great feeling with so many emotions running through my head and my body.”
His teammates were quick to come celebrate the score with him, as everyone on the field rushed to join him in the moment. His fellow wide receiver Tony Lippett said he was proud of Troup after all the work he had done.
”This was his first real action in Spartan Stadium and what a way to open up in Spartan Stadium with your first catch is a touchdown,” he said. “I’m surprised he didn’t have any tears because he has come a long way.”
The emotions of getting back on the field should have come a year earlier, but his 2013 season was derailed by his third ACL tear. The work that he had done before last season stuck with Michigan State coaches, including offensive coordinator Dave Warner, and he continued in this summer.
“Fourteen months ago, he was in a position to help us offensively and he got hurt in the summer, rehabbed that all over again and really had a good summer once again,” Warner said. “He has been in our top two deep really since the summer because we knew what he could do from last year before he got hurt and he had a very good camp.
”We are happy for him and want him to continue to grow as a receiver and we think he can continue to help us down the road.”
Troup figures to do that, being primed to build on his three-catch, 38-yard performance. Yet no matter what he accomplishes moving forward, he already has shown a lot by coming back yet again.
“A lot of people would not think he would come back or overcome that obstacle, but he knew he would,” Lippett said.
And Friday night, Troup was just thankful for the opportunity after going through a long journey.
“I just appreciate the grind – it all paid off,” he said. “Obviously, we still have a full season ahead but coming in with a chip on my shoulder with my knee injuries and coming in as a walk-on, it all paid off and it feels really good.”