Michigan State WR A.J. Troup Earned Respect Inside His Locker Room A Long Time Ago & Is Earning It Now On the Field!
How far would you go for your dream?
AJ Troup endured three knee surgeries, four seasons on the sidelines, and countless hours in the training room for his dream – playing football at the college level.
On Friday night under the bright lights of Spartan Stadium, Troup realized that dream. Troup notched the first catch and touchdown of his collegiate career in the same play, a 17-yard connection with quarterback Connor Cook.
Troup’s magical moment was one of the six touchdowns scored in a perfect night at Spartan Stadium, but it stood out as the most memorable in a 45-7 MSU victory.
Following the big win, Troup spoke about the play and his perseverance, despite having some of the worst luck a football player can have.
Troup’s journey started at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota, not far outside of Minneapolis. Troup was in the midst of a successful senior season when he injured his knee for the first time. The injury, a torn ACL, came at the worst possible time – during the playoffs. In one of the biggest games of his life, the all-conference wide receiver had to watch his team helplessly from the sidelines.
That didn’t deter Troup from aiming high for college. Instead of accepting a scholarship offer to North Dakota or Northern Iowa, Troup decided to walk on at Michigan State.
Soon after his arrival in East Lansing in the spring of 2011, Troup re-injured the same knee during rehab. He eventually sat out the entire season, using a redshirt. In 2012, Troup managed to stay relatively healthy, but did not see any game action.
He had to gain strength and heal. All of the time his coaches and teammates watched others quit or fail to put in the effort of this injured athlete with a dream. Once described by a teammate as, “That train that just failed to believe anything that didn’t involve I think I can.”
Finally, in the spring of 2013, the pieces appeared to be falling into place for Troup. The walk-on impressed the Michigan State coaching staff with his big body and sure hands. The sophomore even hauled in the game-winning touchdown reception in the Green-White spring game.
But it was not meant to be. In July 2013, Troup tore his ACL yet again. Long past the point of quitting, or most people’s threshold of saying no to a dream, Troup did the one things he was raised to do: Go to work! He wouldn’t quit. He couldn’t quit. The Energizer Bunny has his poster on his wall.
Troup watched as his teammates put together one of the best seasons in MSU history, concluding with a dramatic Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.
“I was so close to, I think, putting myself in a position to play last year. But I like to tell myself that everything happens for a reason,” Troup said. “It was a long season, but I learned a lot.
“Being injured just makes you appreciate everything that much more. I appreciate the grind. I already came in with a chip on my shoulder being a walk-on and dealing with injuries.”
At long last, Troup returned to practice in August after a full recovery from his knee problems. The junior picked up right where he left off, once again impressing the Spartan coaching staff with his ability and his teammates with his work ethic.
Troup saw the fruits of his labor when the depth chart for the Jacksonville State game was released and his name was on it, directly underneath Tony Lippett at the “X” receiver position.
Troup knew that his position on the two-deep didn’t ensure him anything. The Minnesota native is just one of many talented wide receivers on the Michigan State roster. Like always Troup asked for nothing, but made others sweat knowing he was always coming.
Whether or not he received playing time, Troup was simply happy to be suited up and playing under the lights at Spartan Stadium. Humble and not willing to his his effort as anything other than normal, he was willing to wait for his shot.
“It was just a great feeling. [There were] so many emotions running through my head when I was out there,” he said.
Troup didn’t have any thoughts of a Hollywood ending dancing in his head. Troup didn’t expect to make a big catch in the first game of his Michigan State career. The 75,000 inside Spartan Stadium may not have known him, or Jacksonville State may have not known him, but his coaches and teammates did. More importantly they respect him.
But late in the first quarter, Troup received his chance.
With 3:45 remaining in the opening stanza, Cook brought the offense up to the line of scrimmage at the Jacksonville State 17 yard line. The play call was a run, but Cook quickly read the defense and spotted a weakness. JSU’s safety was cheating up, leaving the cornerback on an island with Troup on the left side of the field. Cook signaled for Troup to run a fade route.
Cook received the snap and lobbed a picture-perfect pass for Troup, who snatched the ball high in the air and held on for dear life as his momentum sent him tumbling to the turf. Troup triumphantly stood up with the ball in hand, sparking a celebration in the MSU end zone. All of Troup’s teammates on offense came rushing down the field to congratulate him, including Cook.
“It all happened so fast,” Troup said. “Connor and I have worked on that fade pattern quite a bit this summer, and it panned out tonight.”
For Troup, the touchdown reception felt just as incredible as he imagined it would after a long journey. It was only one of what could be many, but at that moment, on that field the youngster under the bright lights of a national audience shined like he had thousands of times before in Ken Mannie’s dungeon of doom and dismay for Spartan opponents.
“That’s how I dreamed it would be, but to be honest, I didn’t know if I was going to have a catch tonight or not,” Troup said. “It was very special how it unfolded, though. To have my first catch be a touchdown definitely shows that all my hard work and rehabbing paid off.”
Nearly all of his teammates were excited for Troup after the game, including fellow wideout Tony Lippett.
“I was proud of Troup. He has been one of the ones grinding since he got injured last year. He’s been grinding all year to get it back,” Lippett said. “His first catch was a touchdown. I was surprised he didn’t have any tears in his eyes. He has come a long way since his ACL injury. A lot of people wouldn’t have thought he’d overcome that obstacle. In his mind, he knew he’d overcome it.”
Having suffered a similar knee injury early in his career, running back Nick Hill empathized with Troup during the recovery process. When Troup finally got his big break, Hill couldn’t have been prouder of his teammate.
“I was extremely happy for him getting in there and making his first touchdown on his first touch in his college career,” Hill said. “I was very excited for him.”
You can bet that the coaches noticed Troup, too.
“We knew what he could do last year before he got hurt and he had a very good camp,” Co-Offensive Coordinator Dave Warner said. “We’re just happy for him and want him to continue to grow as a receiver and we think he can help us down the road.”
Even head coach Mark Dantonio was talking about Troup after the game.
“AJ responded with some big catches. He is a big body wide receiver who can go get the ball.”
Troup’s Spartan debut might be over, but his MSU career is far from finished. Troup is a talented wideout who is a reliable red zone threat. While the depth chart is crowded at wide receiver, Troup has the chance to make a big impact this season.
Regardless of what the season has in store, Troup is already a great example for young athletes, especially ones who suffer injuries early in their careers. Troup displayed remarkable perseverance and determination in the face of debilitating knee injuries. Even when the world seemed against him, during even the darkest of times, Troup held out hope and kept working.
Troup’s story serves as a reminder to us – if you have a dream, chase it. Don’t get discouraged when you reach setbacks, stay on the path and keep working hard. You never know, your dream might come true, just like Troup’s did.
Notre Dame can have Rudy. The Spartan Nation has Troup, but don’t tell him he has done anything extraordinary. It wouldn’t fly. That isn’t the way his mother Stephanie raised him or how he does things. Just keep an eye out for number nineteen and when you see it, point out to your children, grandchildren or anyone in a battle with doubt and unbelief that comes with adversity and tell them, “See that guy, he is what being a Spartan is!”