VALDOSTA –– The Valwood Valiants have retooled on the field and on the sidelines as they prepare for the 2019 season.
Though head coach Justin Henderson was unable to attend ITG Next Media Day on Saturday, his newly-minted offensive coordinator Israel Troupe took questions about the new-look roster.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to be here at Valwood and to start a new trend like coach Ashley Henderson started a while back, winning championships and everything like that,” Troupe said in his opening statement.
Troupe comes to the Valiants after three seasons as an assistant at Valdosta High. Troupe won a state championship at Colquitt County in 2015 and another state title at Valdosta in 2016.
He’ll be in charge of a Valwood offense that averaged 26.1 points per game in 2018 –– 3.3 points per game fewer than when the team won a state championship in 2017.
“The biggest thing for me is that I come in teaching,” Troupe said of his work with the offense. “A lot of the things we run are the same. It may be, if we run zone, it’s zone to anybody else. It’s just a different name. Coming in teaching terminology and a lot of the schemes, routes and how we do things has been the main thing –– especially when you’re coming over from a 6A school with 100-something kids to a private school where you might have 40. With that, I think teaching is a big thing as a new guy coming in.
“The great thing is, defensively, Coach (Justin) Henderson calls the defense so he’s been there for a while. But for me, offensively, it’s all about teaching. From May when we did our OTAs to now when we’re getting into July, it’s all about teaching. Our guys are smart. They’ve picked up on it and I’ve got players teaching players, players coaching players and holding them accountable.”
The Valiants will be replacing quarterback Caleb Burns, who starred the past two seasons as the team’s top passer.
Valwood now has three quarterbacks in the mix with training camp opening July 31 –– Zach Paulk, Pate Hogan and Dru Womack. Troupe calls his group of signal callers “exciting.”
“I think our quarterback position is one of the most exciting parts this year,” Troupe said. “We’ve got our returning guy in Zach Paulk, Pate Hogan and Dru Womack who are all very capable of running this offense.
“The great thing is that we’ve come up with different formations and different packages for all of them. Sometimes you might see Pate at quarterback, other times you might see Zach’s the quarterback then you look out there and Dru’s a receiver and then he comes to quarterback –– you never know what you’re going to get. I think that makes our offense a lot of fun –– you get all your (key) players on the field at the same time and defenses have to account for that.”
In addition to the schemes Troupe is implementing for the Valiants offense, there will be new faces at wide receiver around returning standout Jaheim James.
Enter Aalah Brown, Michael Tucker and Austin Fosdick. The trio of targets gives the Valiants one of their most potent receiving corps since the Cam Walker-J.D. Scurry era ended in 2017.
Brown, who comes over from Valdosta, should make an immediate impact for the Valiants as a pass catcher and on the defensive end as a defensive back. Despite working with Brown at Valdosta, Troupe is treating this year at Valwood with the receiver as a clean slate.
“When you come out to practice and you see us running around, we’ve got gazelles running everywhere,” Troupe said. “With Zach coming back, he’s been the leader on the offense and he’s coming back as a starting receiver.
“The other guys that are coming up now, especially with Jaheim, I’ve been pushing him a lot. Did he have a good season last year? Yes, but I want him to have a better season this year. We’ve got some transfers coming in as far as Aalah and Michael Tucker. Those guys have done nothing –– I know I coached Aalah at Valdosta but he’s at Valwood now. He knows I’m going to push him the same. You have something to prove. This is a new school, these are new players and you have to earn your players’ respect so that carries onto the field. Are you holding yourself accountable? Are you making a good impression on them to say, ‘Hey I trust this guy to play with me on Friday nights.’ Yeah, we have these new athletes coming in but we haven’t played yet. We play Aug. 23, so we haven’t played a game yet. Everything that we’ve been doing in practice is working toward building trust with these guys with their new teammates, but other than that, I’m very exciting about what we’ve got.”
Defensively, the Valiants will be looking to regain a lot of its edge after a down year in 2018.
After allowing just 8.8 points per game during their state championship run, the Valiants allowed 24 points per game last season –– including a whopping 60 points hung on them by Frederica in last year’s state playoffs.
Though they lost their star defensive player Eli Joyner to graduation, Troupe feels the defense will improve with another year of experience and the continuity of players returning.
“From the defense, we’ve got a lot of guys coming back,” Troupe said of the defense. “I keep mentioning Zach –– he’s the all-around guy. He’s our starting safety. Blaine Cooper is our starting linebacker. Matt Hall is going to be up front for us and Tyler Cross is going to be the other linebacker for us this year. We’ve got some guys that are going to be awesome.”
While Troupe will be counted on to lead the offense, Henderson will get a chance to devote more time to that side of the ball this season rather than dabbling in other facets of his team.
“The great thing about it is –– it’s a good thing and a bad thing –– Coach Henderson is giving me the keys to the offense and if you give me the keys, I’m going to drive it as much as you want to,” Troupe said. “It gives him a chance to be more so on the defensive side and make adjustments the way he wants to and not have to worry about anything offensively. I think once you come to our games, you’re going to see they’re much improved on defense because he has the time to do that now. We’re going to be fun to watch on defense now. We’re fast up front, we’re fast at our linebacker spot, we’re talented on the back end and we’re physical. We’ve got to slow people down already in practice, saying, ‘Oh wait, don’t hit each other.’ So we’re ready, we start camp July 31 and August 1, we’ll put the pads on.”