Free

Former Brantley quarterback Jacob Free (12) is competing for a starting spot this fall.

The uncertainty surrounding the 2020 college football season has not hindered the Troy Trojans from getting to work during fall camp.

Troy began fall camp on Aug. 6 and has held practices daily since then despite speculation over whether the season will even begin.

Over the past few weeks the PAC-12 and Big 10 – along with a number of other smaller FCS and FBS conferences – cancelled their fall seasons and the ACC and SEC announced conference-only schedules. As a result, Troy has lost its entire non-conference schedule for the 2020 season.

The Sun Belt Conference announced that team’s would have the opportunity to reschedule any cancelled non-conference games but aren’t required to fill those holes, while Troy Athletic Director Brent Jones has steadfastly said that that the Trojans are committed to playing a 12-game schedule.

On Aug. 13 it was revealed that Troy will travel to BYU on Sept. 26 filling in one of Troy’s schedule holes.

Middle Tennessee announced that it was in talks with Troy to play a home-and-home series in 2020, meaning that Troy would travel to Middle Tennessee on Sept. 19 and would host Middle Tennessee on Nov. 21, but the Trojans have yet to make the series official.

Currently, Troy’s first scheduled game doesn’t take place until Oct. 8 against South Alabama on the road.

Regardless, Troy has never stopped working and the Trojans come into 2020 excited about the possibilities of a bounce-back season. A number of positions need to fill holes in 2020 but none more importantly than that of quarterback. No quarterbacks on Troy’s roster have a start and only one has ever played a snap in college.

Junior Parker McNeil –a junior college transfer – came into the fall expected to battle junior Brantley native Jacob Free and sophomore Gunnar Watson for the starting job, and all three have taking reps with the first team offense throughout fall camp.

All three have the size that Lindsey enjoys in his quarterbacks with Free standing 6-foot-5-inches and weight 217 pounds and Watson at 6-foot-3-inches and 208 pounds, while McNeil checks in at 6-foot-5-inches and 236 pounds.

In 2019, Watson played in four games and completed 13-of-22 passes for 89 yards, while the other two have yet to see playing field in FBS football.

Free started his career at Vanderbilt before transferring to Northwest Mississippi Community in 2018 where he threw for 2,036 yards and 14 touchdowns on his way to earning JUCO All-America honors.

McNeil began his college career at Navarro College in Texas and was named the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 after throwing for 3,485 yards and 29 touchdowns.

All three have big arms but Free also has athleticism that could lend itself well to Lindsey’s option attack. Lindsey said that he plans to name a starter two weeks before the first game, whenever that may be.

“I’d like to announce (the starter) two weeks before the opener so whomever the starter is has a chance to work with our first team offense all the time and build that relationship,” Lindsey said. “Our depth and how many different wide receiver options we have might make that adjustment a bit easier, but the communication is important.”

The Trojans also boast a talented group of running backs that includes fifth-year senior BJ Smith, Texas A&M transfer Charles Strong and Troy’s returning leading rusher DK Billingsley.

Smith was an All-Sun Belt running back in 2018 when he rushed for 1,186 yards and 13 touchdowns but he tore his ACL in only the second game of the season in 2019.

Billingsley replaced Smith in 2019 as the team’s top rusher totaling 901 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Strong was one of the top running back recruits in the country coming out of high school in 2018 and began his career at Texas A&M before transferring to Troy last season. Strong is the biggest Trojan running back by far standing at 6-foot-2-inches and weighing in at 235 pounds.

The Trojans also return a number of experienced receivers including junior Luke Whittemore, senior Sam Letton, senior Tray Eaffford, senior Khalil McClain, senior Reggie Todd and senior Kaylon Geiger.

Geiger led the Trojan receivers with 77 catches, 873 yards and five touchdowns, while McClain chipped in with 45 catches for 562 yards and seven touchdowns. Todd also hauled in 38 catches for 666 yards and five touchdowns along with returning 17 kickoffs or 465 yards and a touchdown.

Former Enterprise Wildcat Dylan Bradshaw will anchor the Trojan offensive line once again this year at center as a senior. In 2019, he was an All-Sun Belt honorable mention. Joining Bradshaw on the line as veterans include offensive guard Jake Andrews and tackle Austin Stidham.

The Troy defense has been riddled by transfers over the past two seasons and will again feature a number of inexperienced players but does return one of the top linebackers in the entire country in junior Carlton Martial. Martial led the Trojan defense again in 2019 with 126 tackles, 18.5 tackles-for-loss, four sacks and three interceptions.

Defensive backs Dell Petus, TJ Harris and KJ Robertson also return along with defensive lineman Will Choloh. Troy also features two FBS transfers that should make waves for the Trojan defense in former Iowa safety Jayden McDonald and former Auburn defensive end Richard Jibunor who will take over as Troy’s pass rusher at the Bandit position.

“The game is about players,” Lindsey said during fall camp. “Coaches are important and we put a plan together, but at the end of the day it is about players.

“Our staff did a fabulous job recruiting and got some players in here that love football and love coming out here and competing, which is half the battle. I like what I’ve seen so far (from the defense) an the best thing is that they are communicating well.”

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