“You can tell the guys that have been at the Division I-A level that you get out of JUCO,” Rowell said. “There’s a distinct difference because they’ve been at that level and played four-year ball and ended up having to go back to JUCO for whatever reason, but they can slip back into the environment of that four-year institution very easily.”
Troy has 22 players on its roster who have transferred into the Trojans’ program from the junior-college ranks, but none have parlayed that transition into a swell of national attention and expectations the way senior strong safety Brynden Trawick has.
Trawick, a former Sprayberry High School standout, made quite the impression in his first year at Troy, putting up the flashy numbers that landed him on this year’s preseason watch list for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back.
“A lot of great players have been on that list, and a lot of great players have won that award,” Trawick said. “I think it’s just an honor to have my name on the list with all the other great players around the country.”
The 6-foot-2, 223-pound Trawick led the Sun Belt Conference with 123 tackles in 2011, and he finished sixth in the country in solo tackles (75) on a Troy defense that allowed him plenty of opportunities to limit the damage from his position in the secondary. The Trojans ranked 113th nationally in total defense and allowed fewer than 23 points only once in 12 games, but Trawick’s standout season earned him second-team All-Sun Belt honors and positioned him to take a more well-defined leadership role in his final season.
“After what I did last year, I think everybody is looking up to me as a leader, not only for the defense but also the whole team,” he said. “I think I just have to step up as a leader and be more vocal.”
After originally committing to play at Michigan State, Trawick saw limited playing time in his first two year with the Spartans, redshirting in 2008 and recording just two tackles in ’09.
He then transferred to Northeast Mississippi Community College in December 2009 after he was suspended from Michigan State for being present at a residence hall during an incident in which several of his teammates were charged with assault.
“My heart just wasn’t in it,” Trawick said of his time as a Spartan. “I got focused on what wasn’t important, and I needed to switch it up and get refocused again.”
He did just that at Northeast Mississippi, racking up 58 tackles, six pass breakups and four forced fumbles in 2010 before moving on to Troy for the spring semester.
Trawick found increased playing time, and a valuable new perspective on his college football career, while at junior college.
“At JUCO, people are coming in from lower-income places, but they’re trying to work just as hard as I’m trying to work,” he said. “I grew up in the suburbs, so I wasn’t really around that a lot. And then, with them (at Northeast Mississippi), it was like a culture shock.
“But I think I handled myself well, and I got the opportunity again to play at a D-I level. I think it was a blessing.”
Trawick chose Troy over Arkansas State and Toledo in part because the Trojans — five-time defending Sun Belt champions at the time — had sent more players to the NFL than any other school in the conference.
As a junior, he excelled against the highest-caliber competition on the Trojans’ schedule, posting double-digit tackles in games against Clemson, Auburn and Navy.
This year, Troy’s depth in the secondary, boosted by a handful of transfers, should allow Trawick even more freedom to make plays.
“I think he’ll be a smarter football player this year,” Rowell said. “He’ll be better because I can give him a rest and keep him fresh longer, which I think will make him a better player late in games, too.”
With the opportunity to distinguish himself as one of the conference’s top defenders in 2012, Trawick can speak to his team’s incoming transfers with authority about the importance of taking the transition to big-time football in stride.
“I’d just say keep your head on straight. This isn’t JUCO anymore, this is a university,” Trawick said. “You have to go to class, you have to do your work, you have to be at all the meetings on time. You have to respect everybody on campus because everybody looks up to you because you’re a football player.”