Tanner Troutman watched the game move so fast in front of him. He was now the lynchpin of a defense coming off one of the best seasons in school history.
Four-year starter Ryan Fenningham wasn't on the field anymore thanks to a knee injury. Troutman wasn't even a starter as his sophomore year started, and he hadn't played that much as a freshman.
But here he was, deep in the Lycoming secondary, now responsible making all the coverage calls in essentially a do-or-die game for the Warriors in the second week of the season. He started to recall the information pressed into the secondary throughout the week by defensive coordinator Steve Wiser. He tried to match up which coverage worked best against which formation Delaware Valley was putting on the field.
It all moved so quickly. Troutman was prepared for this moment, as anybody who plays for Lycoming has to be. The coaching staff constantly preaches the expectation of good play comes with the position, not the player.
So the expectation was for Troutman to make the right calls, to make sure the defensive line, linebackers and secondary were all on the same page. Experienced or not, that was the expectation.
"I felt like I had all the pressure in the world on me," Troutman said earlier this week, recalling that Week 2 game against Delaware Valley last year. "So here I am as a sophomore against the defending MAC champs and it's a lot of pressure playing safety. But I just went out there and played and I ended up with an interception, and I think I had around 10 tackles. But it was something that took getting used to."
Troutman was going to be an integral part of the Lycoming defense last year, even if he wasn't a starter. But he became an all-conference player when Fenningham went down with a knee injury which took away essentially 8 of his final 10 games with the Warriors.
And a year after he recorded nine tackles, an interception and two pass break-ups in Lycoming's 24-14 win over Delaware Valley, Troutman is no longer an unknown quantity. He's the veteran starter in a secondary which features three first-time starters. He's still making the calls, but he's even better prepared to have that kind of work heaped upon his shoulders.
He's coming off an all-conference season which led to being named a preseason All-American by d3football.com. He's not the same player who stepped into the fire last year against Delaware Valley. He's better.
"He really matured a ton from his freshman to his sophomore year. We knew he was solid as a freshman, but maybe not that good," Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. "That's a pretty big jump to being an all-conference player, especially if you're not a starter as a freshman. He just has great instincts. He's very gifted athlete, but he's such a smart player."
His instincts and athleticism would make Troutman a prime candidate to be a freelancer, someone who follows the ball and makes the big play. He's got the hands and speed of a receiver and hits like a hammer swung by Paul Bunyan, all packed in to a 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame.
What makes Troutman and the Warriors' defense better as a whole is his willingness to play within the system. Wiser preaches assignment defense. And when players start trying to make plays instead of letting the game come to them, it's when big plays happen for opposing offenses.
Troutman has to fight the urge to try and make plays. He'll often get great reads on the football field where he can see a play unfolding in front of him, but knows he needs to stay home.
"That's something I think about all the time. You know your own capability and you know you want to get in there and make plays," Troutman said. "You want to be aggressive. You want to make plays. You want to give the offense more chances to score, but it's all about being disciplined. You want to be on your toes and you want to be aggressive. But you have to let the plays come to you."
A year ago Troutman let the plays come to him to the tune of 53 tackles - second most on the team - along with five interceptions and six pass break-ups. He was the consummate playmaker at safety which have become all the rage in football, a ball hawk who's as dangerous stepping up to stop the run as he is dropping back to defend the pass.
"He's really just a ball hawk back there and he covers so much of the field," Lycoming linebacker Kyle Sullivan said. "He's great to have back there. He knows how to get to the right spot and he puts himself in position to make big hits and big plays."
Really, the only thing which has changed with Troutman over the last year is his level of experience and his comfort level in making the coverage calls. He's still the same playmaker he was a year ago, and he may even be better.
He's averaging six tackles per game and recorded eight solo stops in a win over Widener a week ago. But he's got just one interception which came in the opening week against Brockport State.
"I think I've come a long way since last year. I'm a lot more comfortable and confident," Troutman said. "I've been a lot more disciplined with my aggression. You can't go out of you way to make plays, you have to let them come to you."
And with his penchant for being in the right place at the right time, you can guarantee big plays will be coming to him.