After stepping away from football following his freshman year, Belton senior linebacker Coby Trovinger will start for the Tigers tonight.

BELTON — Wrapped up in the palpable excitement while watching last year’s rivalry game against Temple from the stands, Belton’s Coby Trovinger was in awe of the atmosphere and began to think, “Yeah, I should be out there next year.”

Whether it started with that three-overtime, instant-classic slugfest last October or with casual conversations among classmates, Trovinger felt football’s aura pulling him back to the gridiron two seasons after he decided to stop playing.

He didn’t resist. He’ll start at linebacker tonight when the Tigers play against seventh-ranked Austin Westlake in the teams’ season opener at Chaparral Stadium.

Welcome back.

“I’ve always loved football. But, it’s really just wanting to come back and play with my friends. I talked to them about it and they really convinced me,” Trovinger said earlier this week, listing more than a handful of current Tigers with whom he played football in middle school and as a ninth-grader. “I’ll probably just be super nervous but I feel like after the first couple, plays I’ll be fine.”

At first, he was fine without football, which he walked away from during the summer between his freshman and sophomore seasons. As a lifelong baseball player as well, he dedicated to that sport its demanded share of hours while still attending offseason football workouts as a freshman. Trovinger said that workload, coupled with thoughts of the possibility of falling behind in the classroom because of the schedule football requires players to uphold, became too much for the teenager at that juncture.

Baseball and books trumped Friday night lights. He recalled the decision being tough to make yet felt quite necessary at the time.

“I just didn’t think it would work. I was super busy with baseball and I wanted to get my grades up so I could get into good colleges. I just wanted to focus more on school and baseball, and I had more time to do that,” Trovinger said. “I probably could’ve handled it back then but I didn’t really work on time management. I’ve gotten better at it over the years.”

With a better grasp on the rest of his responsibilities, the allure of high school football increasing its presence more and more and an encouraging chat with his dad, Mark — a former Belton offensive and defensive lineman who graduated with the class of 1997 — Trovinger’s re-introduction was set into motion in March.

“I talked to my dad about it one night and he was like, ‘You should do it. It’s a good idea,’” he said.

Trovinger’s return has been relatively seamless, really, with the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder showing few signs of rust. And, timing-wise, it couldn’t have been much better for the Tigers, who are replacing linebackers across the board after graduating three starters. He said getting into football shape, which he classified as very different from baseball shape, was the most strenuous part about finding his way back into the groove. Well, that, and the first week of fall practice, which he realized was about as difficult (worth it, of course, in the long term) as advertised.

He also felt as though he had to prove himself to his teammates and coaches, and he had a particular way in mind of how to do that.

“The main thing was I just wanted to hit somebody really hard, just so everyone knows, like, ‘I’m here and I’m back,’” Trovinger said while smiling before telling of a certain drill during a spring practice in May. “I got a pretty good lick on the running back. I was like, ‘OK, yeah, I could get used to this again.”

Belton third-year head coach Sam Skidmore said having Trovinger back has been a bright spot and commended the senior’s commitment to earning his starting role.

“The thing about him is he competes. He’s going to get after it. He’s nasty. He’s physical. And I love it. He’s done a great job,” Skidmore said. “We’ve been very blessed to have him back out.”

Skidmore said there was a learning curve, but what helped Trovinger acclimate with the Tigers defense was the brand-new scheme implemented by first-year Belton defensive coordinator Ty Pattrick. Everyone began learning the ins and outs at the same time.

“I started at the same point that everyone else did in the spring,” said Trovinger, who said he hopes to be accepted into either Texas A&M or Texas and study engineering or delve into the medical world. “We all started together and I think that really helped.”

Trovinger said the Tigers want their defense to be fast, aggressive and relentless. How Trovinger plans to fulfill that is of the typical linebacker mentality.

“Really, hitting people and going hard all the time,” he said.

He might have left football but, clearly, football never left him.