Troy Trojans

Jase Schmidt (12) is defended by Zach Hrbacek during Troy’s practice Wednesday on the newly installed turf field at Trojan Stadium.

Not only does Troy have a 2,000-yard rusher returning for his fourth go-round, the Trojans also welcome back four offensive linemen who’ve all suited up for at least 10 varsity games.

So even for a team that said goodbye to foundational leaders from a historic 2019 squad, rebuilding isn’t the term head coach Ronnie Porter is using in 2020.

“We’re reloading,” the seventh-year coach said. “I think program-wise, we are in a good position. We have built it up over the years.”

Zach Hrbacek is the aforementioned workhorse in the backfield, an elusive playmaker coming off a junior campaign in which he churned out 2,770 yards rushing and 35 touchdowns en route to a Texas Sports Writers Association first-team all-state selection. His lane-makers back for more up front are senior Zach Westbrook, junior Austin Webb, sophomore Elijah Sunderman and junior Brady Mays, who missed his sophomore year with a knee injury after starting every game as a freshman.

Add those offensive bright spots with the versatility of senior tailback Xavier Hernandez and junior linebacker Kadin Workman anchoring a defense that also will rely on contributions from Caden Womack, Hunter Martin and Joel Ramos, and the Trojans appear poised to continue their upward trend.

“I’m just excited. I can’t wait to get on the field with this special group,” said Hrbacek, whose stellar junior showing followed a sophomore campaign during which he racked up 1,872 yards and 25 TDs while winning the league’s offensive MVP award. “My top-end speed still needs a little work, and I’ve been working on my upper body a lot more than usual.”

Troy was three wins from the top of the Class 3A Division I heap in 2019, when the Trojans recorded a program-best 12 victories, picked up a district championship and advanced to the Region III final before falling to eventual state champion Grandview.

This season’s road to the playoffs will include a few new league opponents in what is now District 11-3A-I. Familiar foes Cameron Yoe, Rockdale and Academy are joined by Caldwell, Lorena and McGregor to form a group Porter tabbed as the “toughest district in 3A Division I when you consider top to bottom.”

“It’ll be hard-fetched to find a district as consistent as this one, having as much talent and as well-coached,” he added.

What’s new

Paul Williams joined the Trojans’ coaching staff as offensive coordinator following two seasons as head coach at Academy. He takes over a unit that posted 400 yards and 37 points per game last season. Porter said Troy’s approach won’t change much under Williams.

“We’ve adjusted very well. It’s been pretty smooth,” Westbrook said. “We’ve been able to learn it and handle it pretty well.”

Aside from the shiny artificial field turf installed over the break at Trojan Stadium, the other glaring new for Troy this season will be at quarterback, and who that will be is up in the air through one week of fall camp, Porter said.

Schedule speak

Troy’s season kicks off Aug. 28 against rival Salado at Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Crusader Stadium, but things heat up with the 11-3A-I opener Oct. 2 versus Lorena, which is led by longtime coach Ray Biles. The Leopards dropped down a division from 4A-II.

Other key dates for the Trojans likely will be Week 8 against Yoe and Week 10 versus Rockdale.

“Despite what many people think, we have a lot of experience coming back,” Westbrook said. “So, it’s definitely exciting. I think we’ll be really good this season.”

Elephant in the room

There is a pandemic and COVID-19 precautions are as prominent as a Whataburger sign off the interstate. However, they are in place for a reason, and Hrbacek said the Trojans are managing the best they can.

“Just the fact that you have to have your mask on when you’re on the sideline is really weird but it’s better than no season,” he said.