Life is filled with “crossroads,” i.e., times and places where decisions need to be made about direction, or decisions about changes to the way things are done and how to implement the changes.
My wife and I are facing some changes as our daughter is now a University of Nebraska student pursuing her dream. Yes, I know, Buckeye fans, it is difficult, but at least it wasn’t the school up north. We also took my son to Florida to begin college, so we are now at the crossroad of an empty nest. There are also these points of change in sports.
There have been many times in Troy football history when the Trojans were entering a new era. “Will this be the beginning of something good, or will it be a short-lived experiment?”
The football program and its new head coach, Dan Gress, along with his assistants, face many challenges this year. One of the obvious changes to the program is a new head coach, who brings with him his own philosophy of the game, strategy for victory and playbook.
Miami Valley Today sports editor Josh Brown succinctly pointed out the other challenges for this year’s Trojans in the “Football Preview” when he stated the loss of 12 seniors (all of whom contributed), especially impact players like Jayden Culp-Bishop, Sam Jackson and Spencer Klopfenstein, forces the coaching staff to make adjustments. But Brown also went on to enunciate the strengths which Troy has returning to team, which promises a strong foundation to build upon. Coach Gress will not be the first coach in Troy football history to be confronted with these challenges. In fact, numerous coaches faced similar situations as they took over the reins of the football program.
Two years, in particular, come to mind: 1954 and 1969, which were 75 and 50 years ago, respectively. In 1954, new head coach Lou Juillerat, a Woody Hayes type coach, all the way to retired Naval officer, began his seven-year tenure in Troy. Following the retirement of Carlton Kazmaier after the successful 1951 season (8-1), Troy struggled through two seasons of frustration, which culminated in the grand total of a 0 wins, 17 losses and 1 tie. Coach Juillerat’s beginning in Troy was not spectacular and did not exhibit a lot of hope, as his charges posted a 3-6 record. However, as he implemented his system of training, work and discipline, the Troy High School football team became a squad to be feared on the gridiron.
Likewise, 50 years ago in 1969, the legendary Jim Conard took over as head coach. At the time, he was not the well-known coach of history that he is now. He had assisted for several years, but in 1969 he was presented with the opportunity to lead the program. Again, like Coach Juillerat, the initial campaign was not too memorable. In talking to him a number of years ago before his passing, Coach Conard spoke of the good foundation, mixed with inexperienced potential, which made up the team that year. The 1969 team finished 2-7-1, which was not what anyone wanted. Be that as it may, Coach Conard cited the improvement his young men had made. The final game was against a strong Wayne team, which had beaten Beavercreek, who, in turn, had beaten Troy 45-0. The game was tied 22-22 in the waning seconds of the game and the team, literally, fell three yards short of beating the Warriors. Following the game, the coach said he knew he had the making of a good team when the young men, who had only won two games, cried in the locker room because they “failed” to beat one of the best teams in the league. He saw the passion and motivation. He could work with that.
I state these things because as the football program enters yet another “era,” that it might be the beginning of something good, even if this year is not perfect. Life is full of challenges and crossroads. Here’s hoping the Trojans make the most of their opportunities before them.
Coach Gress, I wish you, your assistants, and the young Trojans, all kinds of success this year. But, ultimately, whether this season is considered a success or just another year, don’t let the season define who you are and what the future can bring. Fifty and seventy-five years ago, they, like you were at a crossroad, but despite the circumstances and the outcome, they continued to work for bigger and better things. The teams which followed those transition years became part of Trojan football lore.