FOOTBALL 2020: After program-best 12-win season, Troy and workhorse RB Hrbacek seek another long run
THE TROJANS' HORSES: After helping lead Troy to a program-best 12-2 record and the Class 3A Division I Region III final last year, junior linebacker Kadin Workman (left) and senior running back Zach Hrbacek intend to propel the Trojans to another successful season and long playoff march in 2020. Workman made 156 tackles last season, and district MVP and first-team all-state performer Hrbacek rushed for 2,736 yards and 35 touchdowns. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
HOMETOWN HERO: 1997 Troy High School graduate Ronnie Porter has produced success as the Trojans' head football coach, going 42-26 with four playoff trips in six seasons. His 2019 team won a district title, recorded a program-record 12 wins and advanced to the Class 3A Division I Region III final before a loss against back-to-back state champion Grandview. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
TROY – Kadin Workman made 156 tackles as a sophomore linebacker last season for the 12-2 Troy Trojans. He's definitely glad his job description doesn't entail having to attempt to tackle first-team all-state senior running back Zach Hrbacek, Troy's shifty workhorse, other than during practices.
“It's really hard. He's slippery,” a grinning Workman said as Hrbacek, who's rushed for 5,359 career yards and won last year's MVP award in District 10-3A Division I, sat next to him inside head coach Ronnie Porter's fieldhouse office. “I would have him in my backfield over anyone else in our district."
Asked if he's ever competed against a running back who's as difficult to tackle as the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Hrbacek is, Workman had a quick one-word response: “No.”
But in a mutual admiration society, the Sam Houston State-committed Hrbacek made it clear that he prefers to have Workman – the 10-3A Division I Defensive Newcomer of the Year – as his teammate instead of as an opponent who's seeking to take him down to the turf.
“He's a head-hunter, that's for sure,” Hrbacek said of the aggressive Workman (7 1/2 sacks last season), who enjoyed his teammate's compliment.
The fact that Troy has such impressive players on both sides of the ball is a major reason the Trojans reached the Class 3A Division I Region III final against eventual back-to-back state champion Grandview last year, when Porter's squad achieved the first 12-win season – two years after going 3-7 – and fourth-round playoff appearance in program history.
Excellent team chemistry played a vital role, too.
“The special thing last year was that group of boys, the seniors, we've been playing all sports together since elementary school. It was just that bond we had,” Hrbacek said about a class that included multi-year stalwarts such as Tyler Jarolik, Kody Kaminski, Sam Jones and Beau Workman. “This year will be different because this is my senior year and we have a few more underclassmen, but it's still going to be a good year.”
Added Kadin Workman: “We want to create the most out of what we have and try to rebuild from what we lost.”
Troy enters Porter's seventh season as the No. 9-ranked team in the state in 3A Division I according to Texas Football magazine. The Trojans will get an immediate test in their annual season-opening game against area rival Salado – ranked No. 21 in 4A Division II – at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mary Hardin-Baylor's Crusader Stadium in Belton.
“That's always a knock-down, drag-out,” Porter said. “We know it's going to be a real competitive game."
Troy beat Salado 28-14 last year at UMHB thanks to Hrbacek's 213 rushing yards and three total touchdowns plus Jones' 95-yard fumble return for a touchdown with 47 seconds remaining, sealing the Trojans' second straight win over the Eagles and seventh in eight years.
Troy went on to become the undefeated 10-3A-I champion, highlighted by scoring a combined 108 points in double-digit victories over perennial powers Cameron Yoe and Rockdale.
So, what's the goal now for these Trojans?
“Just keep building on what we've got going,” said Porter, the 1997 Troy graduate who's 42-26 with four playoff trips in six seasons. “We spent years in the shadow of Cameron and Rockdale, and that was kind of the preaching point, to get ourselves in the mix with those names, because everybody always talked about Cameron and Rockdale being the top dogs in our district.
"Winning (district) was a big deal. So that's kind of what you preach now, is that you've got the target on your back. We know we have the target on our back, and we need to take the next step and just keep getting better.”
Porter said one indication of his program's steady maturation is that this is the first season in five or six years that he has no plans to play a freshman on varsity.
“We lost a bunch (of key players),” Porter said, “but we have 21 players who have worn a varsity jersey come back in our locker room. That's a big advantage. They've at least been there and seen what a Friday night looks like.”
Hrbacek and Troy's other skill-position players will benefit from an offensive line on which four of the five starters have played in 10-plus varsity games.
Senior center Zach Westbrook (6-feet-2, 265 pounds) is a third-year starter; junior left tackle Brady Mays (6-2, 220) played 12 games as a freshman before missing last year with an injury; sophomore left guard Elijah Sunderman (6-2, 253) played all 14 games a freshman and was 10-3A-I's Offensive Newcomer of the Year; and junior right guard Austin Webb played every game last season. The line's lone newcomer is sophomore right tackle Gage Miller.
“I'd like to keep putting pressure on him because he's got to get better, but he's off to a good start,” Porter said of Miller. “He's about a 300-pound kid, the biggest one we've got.”
Three offensive linemen also are projected starters on the defensive front: ends Mays and Sunderman and tackle Westbrook, with junior Joel Ramos playing nose guard. Workman and fellow junior Hunter Martin are the inside linebackers, flanked by senior Matthew Sibley and junior Jacob Smith as the outside linebackers.
Porter has growing confidence in a secondary that includes senior safeties Xavier Hernandez and Caden Womack plus junior Brady Bearden and sophomore Haegen Welch as the cornerbacks.
Senior Jase Schmidt and junior Jace Carr have competed to replace first-team all-district pick Ben Presley as Troy's starting quarterback, but Porter said Carr emerged because he potentially can start for two years and there's a greater need for Schmidt's skilled blocking as a receiver.
“I think (Carr) mentally will be there. He's got a little ways to go,” Porter said. “We may do a little bit less pocket passing than what we did (last year). Honestly, we would either line up under center and run the football or drop back in the shotgun and pass the ball. If we can't pass and run it out of the gun, then we'll primarily run the bootleg-type stuff, which (Carr) can do very well.”
Fullback Martin and tight end Smith will do well to follow in the footsteps of graduated go-to performers Jones and Beau Workman.
Troy possesses a bona fide superstar in Hrbacek, who rushed for 578 yards as a freshman, 2,045 yards as a sophomore (winning 10-3A-I's Offensive MVP award) for the 9-3 Trojans and then exploding for 2,736 yards and 35 touchdowns last year en route to earning district MVP and first-team all-state honors.
All the Trojans' opponents have and will continue to build their defensive gameplans around containing Hrbacek, but the senior's rare blend of speed, power, durability, vision, quick-cutting ability and a general unwillingness to be tackled is too potent for most foes to adequately handle.
Hrbacek was outstanding in Troy's season-ending 34-13 loss to juggernaut Grandview, rushing 34 times for 224 yards and touchdowns of 44 and 51 yards.
“His strength is a big thing. He's the hardest-working dude we've got. Not only is he good; he works hard to be good,” Porter said of Hrbacek, who runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. “He's worked on his top-end speed. When we were down (because of the COVID-19 pandemic), his mom posted pictures of him running in his backyard with parachutes and bungee cords. Whenever colleges said his top-end speed wasn't quite there yet, that's what he worked on.”
Academy first-year head coach Chris Lancaster was Troy's offensive coordinator from 2014-19 and appreciated Hrbacek's consistent push to improve.
“Zach has the wiggle and the juke, but his best attribute is his work ethic,” Lancaster said. “He's determined and he brings it every day.”
Hrbacek, whose new offensive coordinator is former Academy head coach Paul Williams, has set some very lofty goals for his senior season: at least 3,000 rushing yards and another 35 touchdowns.
Troy's new district is seven-team 11-3A-I, which includes Yoe, Rockdale, Academy and McGregor along with dropping-from-4A programs Caldwell and Lorena. The Trojans will play on their new artificial turf field for the first time in their Sept. 4 home opener against Mexia.
Because Grandview was realigned into Region II, Troy can't get a potential rematch with the Zebras until December's state championship game at Arlington's AT&T Stadium. That's a long way down the road, but Porter believes he and his Trojan players would embrace the challenge.
“There's only going to be one team happy at the end of all this, and that's the one hoisting the trophy at Jerry's World,” Porter said. “I would absolutely love playing for that thing. That's always your goal, because you want to teach your kids to go into any game knowing that you're going to win. We've got the ingredients; we just need to put it all together and let it stew.”