2018 Gridiron: Triopia Trojans
Colors: Columbia Blue and White
Total Returning Lettermen: 11
2017 Overall Record: 4-5
Head Coach: Rich Thompson
Years at School: 11
Record at School: 80-38
Overall Record: 151-103
THE LIGHT (BLUE) IS COMING: TROJANS FIGHT TO TRANSLATE ENORMOUS POTENTIAL INTO TANGIBLE PRODUCTION
PAGETURNED: Summed up in a single word, the 2017 Concord Triopia Football Season might best be described as “befuddling.” Rich Thompson played a plethora of talented underclassmen last Fall and saw his squad vacillate wildly between spates of soaring highs and self-inflicted struggle. Sometimes in the same series. The net result was just four total wins and a very quiet November; certainly not the narrative we’ve come to expect from one of the Tri-State’s most historically dependable winners. As a result, the Trojans find themselves at a very interesting crossroads. With sixteen returning starters, Triopia is as loaded on paper as anyone in Western Illinois. But until/unless this crew can remedy the confidence/maturity disconnects that have undercut their productivity, the questions will linger and persist. Conversely, if we see early positive traction, Triop might be the one team armed enough to actually threaten Central and Beardstown at the top end of the WIVC North.
BURNS UNIT: Causes for optimism, you ask? Beyond just the standard-issue arguments for the value of experience, I’d posit overall team quickness. Most obviously that manifests itself in the Skill Positions; which is important here because you really aren’t anyone in the WIVC North this season if you don’t have a minimum of at least two potential thousand yard rushers and/or receivers. The returns of proven feature back Michael Burns and Swiss Army Knife Zach Thompson put the Trojans into that conversation. The former tallied 1003 yards on 178 carries and showed really good durability for a kid getting that many carries at just 165 pounds. After a stellar Sophomore Year Debut, it seemed like the rest of the Conference caught up to Michael Burns a little bit last Fall. His yards per carry dropped from seven-per-tote in 2016 to 5.6 last year. Put simply, opponents were lying in way for Burns and he didn’t enjoy near enough space to create breakaway lanes. So it’s his turn to adjust in kind. He’s a very compact runner who works without a lot of wasted motion. He’s very good going North/South. He has a nice ability to turn the corner. And Bruns is a willing, productive runner between the tackles who profiles stronger than he looks. I would argue that neither he nor his Offensive Line mates did a very good job figuring out run blitzes last year and some of his lost production was caused by not being able to attack as aggressively as he might have liked with lots of clutter in the backfield a step or two into his carries. That’s a fixable issue on all ends and one I think the Trojans correct. If Burns is allowed to do his thing, I suspect we see his most productive individual campaign yet. He’s got nice tools.
Zach Thompson is a wildly explosive athlete with cheetah foot speed and unreal body control. He’s not very big at 5’10” and 160 pounds but can slither his way through traffic as a runner and has unreal ability to adjust in the air and win the thrown football as both a Wide Receiver and elite level area Defensive Back. The All Purpose value here is a wonderful counterpunch off of Burns tradition tailback act. Zach had 853 ground yards a year ago at a clip of nearly seven yards per carry. He also caught 18 passes for another 362 of total offense. He’s a kid you can do an awful lot with. People see him and assume “slot guy” and while he is really good at taking the quick toss and creating in space, I’d admonish you to go back to that TD catch he had against Routt to remind that he’s a dangerous man in the deep vertical game as well. Bottom line, the presence of these two kids really should open up the field for their offensive compadres in 2018. And I think it is with those kids that Triopia’s ultimate offensive fortunes rest.
FOR WHOM BELL TOLLS: Sean Bell is a really fun Triopia Quarterback; a description I’m not sure I ever previously leveled at his predecessors. The Trojans have produced some really decent, if unsung Signal Callers over the years at that spot; profiled some nice athletes there, rode the gritty leadership of a couple of crafty game managers, even converted an All Stater and future Pro Kick Boxer into a hybrid QB in a time of need. But Bell is a kid who brings some genuine panache and swagger to the job. He plays with tangible confidence and is a natural athlete of dangerous burst. His development as a thrower seems to be coming along as well, though he needs to exercise a little more restraint in cutting down his interception rate from a year ago. That said, he definitely has raised confidence in a Trojan Passing Game that has needed to become more prominent in recent years. Bell can wing it. He also has viable weapons ready to catch it. Thompson of course, but also breakout Tight End Tanner Allen, a 6’4” strong-bodied target who had 6 receptions for 119 yards a year ago. Junior Alex Coil and Senior Brady Beard could also enter that equation this season. There is real live inducement for the Trojans to put the ball in the air here and real threat for Defenses who don’t take that into account.
DON’T SLEEP ON: For lack of a better term herethe other guys on this offense. Zach Rouland is a big, powerful Fullback at 6’4” and 240 pounds who specializes in getting the hard yard and providing excellent cover for his smaller backfield mates. The Trojan Offensive Line isn’t going to scare anyone getting off the bus given its lack of relative size. That said, kids like Senior Center Adam Kleinschimdt and Guards Austin Gaines and Connor Bridgewater can flat get down field and chase down targets. The Trojans will need to find a couple of new starters at Offensive Tackle (Alex Coil might end up there as well) but this is a group that fronted to the tune of 261 ground yards a game a year ago. Expect that number to spike considerably given the fact that these guys up front now understand their job and are mobile enough to get in front of Bell/Thompson/Burns and spring them to the second and third level of a Defense.
STACKING THE BOX: No real secret here: the Trojans won’t get back to playoff level without a significant spike on the Defensive Side of the Football. Triopia surrendered nearly 25 points per game last Fall; a stat that is probably overly kind given the nature of their wins against the weaker end of the conference. The Trojans simply go “out physical-ed” too often in 2017. It’s time to return the favor. Middle Linebacker Zach Rouland will be the tone setter in trying to ramp up the stinginess and edginess of this unit. He posted 85 stops a year ago, tops among all returnees in the Front Eight and fits well as an imposing figure in at the heart of this 5-3 scheme. The Trojans are banking on continued ascent from Outside Linebackers Connor Bridgewater and Austin Gaines, the latter of whom bagged 71 stops of his own. The Defensive Line Scenarios are a bit more daunting, as the Trojans will need to unearth a pair of Quality new Defensive Ends over the Summer (keep an eye on both Broc Moore and Chase Stock in that department) to couple with Tanner Allen and potentially Alex Coil at D-Tackle. This area here is your litmus test for Triopia Football in 2018. If we see considerable improvement in the Front Eight relative to last season; particularly in interdicting the run and playing with more evident fire and ferocity, than the Trojans will like have made the jump overall back towards the six or seven win mark and playoff eligibility. That may seem a little elemental but it really is that simple moving forward for this team.
WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS: Whatever their other Defensive Concerns, the Triopia Secondary is an absolute gem. Thompson but up the kind of Free Safety production as a Junior (101 tackles, 7 interceptions) this area hasn’t seen since the heyday of Caleb Bieniek at Hannibal. Dawson Lemons returns at Strong Safety on the heels of a 42 tackles Junior Season. Michael Burns is a proven commodity as a Cover Corner. And Joe Walker, Brady Beard, and Daniel Embley are all waiting in the wings for their chance to jump in and lend quality depth.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: Rich Thompson summed it far better than I could: “The Sky is the limit if the attitude is right.” It’s not X’s and O’s here, it’s hearts and minds. Speaking plainly, the chemistry construct of some of these recent incarnations of Trojan Football have been in sharp contrast to the programs rich history. Not enough “own it” kids. Not nearly enough heady play as a collective. And a weird dearth of this programs usually standard issued, farm-bred mental and physical toughness. That weird vibe has gone on long enough to feel like a trend. But this group here has the tools to arrest it and reverse it. The Trojans are quick across the board. They’ve got rainmakers on both sides of the ball. They’ve shown some much needed clutch gene in other sports. So the 2018 is a big moment not just as a snap shot of a season, but for the overall momentum of Trojan Football into the future. The schedule isn’t geared to a fast start with both Carrollton and Central looming in Weeks One and Four respectively. But that’s just the kind of adversity this team needs to stand up to and silence. And I think they do. This team should be favored on talent alone to win seven games in the regular season. And I have a hard time seeing them lose more than four even if they only get to 80% of their potential. In that sense, I think a fast start is important. But I think this thing reignites in a really important and meaningful way. I will error on the side of caution and put the over/under at 5.5 wins and obviously, a playoff return. Masters of their own recharted, reinvigorated destiny? Has a nice ring to it.