There were multiple opportunities for Tanner Troutman to never play a down as a safety at Lycoming. As a freshman, there was a spot open for a starting cornerback on the Warriors' defense.
Troutman, in all honesty, is built more like a cornerback anyway. But the spot ended up being won by fellow freshman Kody Flail. Troutman even flirted with the idea of moving to wide receiver.
Fortunately for head coach Mike Clark and the Lycoming defense, none of those options worked out. And after his best season in two years as a starting safety for the Warriors, Trout-man was named a d3football.com All-American recently. Troutman, who was selected to the first team, was joined on the All-America team by senior defensive tackle Dwight Hentz, who was selected as an honorable mention.
Troutman and Hentz become the 10th and 11th d3football.com All-Americans for Lycoming since the website's inception. They are the first from Lycoming to be honored on the team since Ray Bierbach and Anthony Marascio in 2011. Troutman is Lycoming's first-ever d3football.com first-team All-American.
The All-America selections come on the heels of a season in which Lycoming captured a share of its 15th Middle Atlantic Conference championship, and its first since 2008. It's also the second league title in six years under Clark.
"It feels good to leave a bit of a legacy with Lycoming football," Hentz said earlier this week. "Being a preseason All-American, that was nice, but it doesn't mean much in comparison to the end of the season."
"To me, the main goal was not to be an All-American, it's just a bonus. The main goal is to win a MAC championship," Troutman said. "But being an All-American is a big deal, but getting the ring is the number one priority."
When Troutman was named a preseason All-American by the same website, he was a little skeptical. Troutman was coming off a stellar sophomore season in which he was a second-team all-MAC selection. He had proven his ability to excel against the run and the pass when he was thrust into a starting role in Week 3 because of injuries. But Clark wasn't sure if he was quite at an All-American level just yet.
Then Troutman went out and led the country with eight interceptions. He was second in the MAC in passes defended behind only fellow All-American Drew Peterson of Albright. And Troutman may have proven himself to be the most important figure out another stellar Steve Wiser-coached defense.
He was the most veteran figure, and the leader of a secondary which lost the likes of Matt Talerico, Ryan Fenningham, Flail, Caleb Shertzer and Cody Butler from the 2012 team.
"He's very smart and instinctive. He makes educated guesses. When you have the ability he has, and you're coachable, it makes for a pretty good player," Clark said. "If you're picked to be a preseason All-American and you lead the country in interceptions, you deserve to be a first-team All-American. He backed it up. He met the expectations. He definitely deserves it because the pressure was on and he responded."
Want to know how important Troutman was to Lycoming's secondary, well just look at the Warriors Week 5 game against Delaware Valley when he was initially ejected in the final 5 minutes of a 10-point game for targeting the head of an Aggies receiver on a vicious hit. Clark spent a good five minutes pleading with officials to get together and discuss the call.
New rules in place in NCAA football this year required the automatic ejection of a player penalized for targeting. Clark didn't dispute the penalty, but he wanted the officials to make sure Troutman should have been penalized for targeting and not just helmet-to-helmet contact. The officials let the penalty stand, but did not eject Troutman after a conversation.
The junior eventually made the game-clinching interception over the middle on Delaware Valley's final drive, sealing a 19-16 win for Lycoming.
"Who knows what happens if he's ejected. You hope you don't lose, but I think it would have certainly increased the likelihood we don't win that game significantly," Clark said. "That's the reason I did all I could to keep him in the game. To lose him in that scenario would have been very hard."
The final-drive interception was one of two Troutman made that day. He had just one in the first four games of the season prior to the Delaware Valley game, and in the week leading up to the game he spoke of his frustration for not making more high-impact plays, especially coming off a five-interception season as a sophomore.
He spoke with defensive coordinator Wiser about making sure he didn't try to do too much and letting the game come to him. Wiser assured him if he played his role and let the game come to him, the big plays would eventually come.
Troutman recorded seven of his eight interceptions over the final six weeks of the season, including three in the season finale against Stevenson which helped the Warriors clinch a share of the MAC title with Lebanon Valley.
"I was down on myself. I was a preseason All-American and I had the interception against Brockport, but not many opportunities after that," Troutman said. "I was getting frustrated. It was really a one-time thing where I went into the office and 'Wise' said be patient. He's seen so many good players fall apart because they're thinking too much. That team championship being the No. 1 priority helped me to not be self-centered. It was kind of neat how it paid off being patient. I had the two interceptions against Del Val and I said this patience thing is going to work out."
Troutman said the All-American nod was as much for his defensive teammates as it was an individual honor. He pointed to someone like Hentz controlling the line of scrimmage which helps Troutman be able to wait an extra split second watching a pass play develop instead of being forced to come up immediately to support the run.
Hentz was one of the most disruptive interior defensive lineman in the MAC this year. His 12 tackles for loss were tied for fourth-best in the MAC and led the Warriors. He all but dissuaded teams from trying to run up the middle against Lycoming, and often forced ball carriers to bounce their runs outside into the waiting arms of the Warriors' speedy linebackers.
It was a thankless job, but maybe one of the most important in Wiser's scheme.
"Obviously everyone likes to get recognition, but getting a MAC championship was the most important thing to me this year," Hentz said. "Being in the middle, I feel like we controlled how teams ran the ball. People don't pay a lot of attention to the interior line, but they can really control the tempo of the ball game up front. I like flying under the radar."
"I think anytime you have a guy be disruptive inside who changes the line of scrimmage, that's a good starting point for your defense," Clark said. "It makes the offense uncomfortable when you have a guy like him in there. We knew he was a good player, but we had lost a lot of good pieces. He met our expectations and might have exceeded them."
Hentz said he fell into the trap early in the season, after being named a preseason All-American, of trying to do too much in the first couple of games. Trying to live up to those expectations, he got out of the scheme of the defense and wasn't playing how he wanted to.
He got back to his roots by playing within the scheme of the defense, just trying to be disruptive in the middle instead of trying to make a big play and big hits. He ended up posting his best of his four seasons with the Warriors.
He recorded nine tackles against both Lebanon Valley and Albright, and he had 3 sacks against Widener, a team which doesn't traditionally give up a lot of sacks.
Playing at around 250 pounds, Hentz wasn't the imposing figure teams in the MAC often have playing defensive tackle, but he was probably the strongest player on the team. Troutman said players on the team crowded around him in the weight room to watch him bench press 400 pounds three times one day.
Hentz spent a lot of time in the weight room to keep up his strength because he wasn't the biggest of defensive tackles. He said he started the season at about 250 pounds, and toward the end of the season was between 240 and 245 pounds. Still he was able to fight off double teams and control the line of scrimmage.
"He has great strength. He was always strong. When he first got here that's all he was, because he wasn't a great football player when he got here," Clark said. "Rarely are you getting single blocked inside. His strength and technique as he got older really separated him from everyone else. He was mastering the fundamentals which is why Dwight was good as a junior and an All-American as a senior."
Lycoming D3football.com All-Americans
DB Sean Graf, 2000 (3rd)
P John Shaffer, 2000 (HM)
DE Sean McGinley, 2003 (2nd)
WR Ricky Lannetti, 2003 (3rd)
T Matt Mendola, 2003 (HM)
DE Ryan Yaple, 2007 (HM)
S Ray Bierbach, 2010 (HM)
DE Anthony Marascio, 2011 (2nd)
S Ray Bierbach, 2011 (3rd)
S Tanner Troutman, 2013 (1st)
DT Dwight Hentz, 2013 (HM)