Normally, at this time slot on this day you would see my “Thoughts of the Week”. However, as I mentioned last week, I am dealing with the loss of my grandfather and had to visit with my family in south Florida for the funeral proceedings.
In lieu of my thoughts of the week, I caught up with former Gators tight end Ben Troupe on the phone and he had A LOT to say. “Thoughts of the Week” will be back next week.
Ben Troupe will always be a Florida Gator in his mind and that is a badge that he wears with honor. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound former tight end out of Swainsboro, GA that would grow into a First-Team All-American and 2nd round NFL Draft Pick bleeds Orange and Blue and will talk about the Gators to just about anyone that will listen, and understands some of the struggles that Florida is going through, because he went through the same when he was with the Gators just over a decade ago.
Recruited to Steve Spurrier’s “Fun-N-Gun” offense, Troupe was destined to excel – he had the frame, speed, and ability to be an immediate contributor. Then, things changed for Troupe when Spurrier bolted to the NFL and the Washington Redskins, and Ron Zook was brought in to lead the team. He understands the struggles of winning a lot and then not winning quite as much, just about better than anyone.
While Will Muschamp has had a fate eerily similar to Ron Zook, he isn’t quick to blame the head coach just yet, “He had a good sophomore year, going 11-2, with big wins against South Carolina and LSU. I think last season got away from us. I think every program counts on their starters being healthy, and when you get down to your third string quarterback, third string running back, back-up offensive linemen, its hard for any team to be successful, and I think, its like an anomaly. Going 11-2 and coming back with the same coaching staff and going 4-8 the next season forces you to place the blame on injuries before anything else.”
Troupe noted that even though Muschamp has had some struggles and has the support of him and his former teammates, they have high standards for the UF program. “Me and my past teammates support UF and we really appreciated the opportunity we had to play at the University of Florida. Florida is the crème-de-la-crème of the SEC and we are just trying to hope that we get back to the top,” Troupe said. “As a former player, you take it personal when the team doesn’t do well – its like you watch your little brother out there, so you definitely want to watch the team get back to that winning tradition.”
Troupe added, however, that he does see things changing, particularly on the offensive side of the ball under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. “I followed Kurt Roper at Duke. Anytime you can put up those types of numbers, those types of wins and run those kind of plays at Duke, you get excited,” Troupe noted. “Nothing against Duke, but if he can go out and have the success he had at Duke at Florida with the players that I know we have on our roster, it is something to be excited about. I am looking forward to having that quick gun offense, an up-tempo offense, that gives our players a chance to make plays and keep defenses off-balance – something we haven’t really seen in a while.”
As a former tight end, Troupe has noticed how Roper has used the tight end position and that has him thrilled, because, for him, nothing was more disappointing than watching the position struggle mightily last season. Troupe highlighted, “Roper will utilize what the players at the position do well. If you look at Jordan Reed and what he is doing with the Redskins, you will see how the tight end is used under Roper. You need to be able to capitalize on what a player does well. “ He went on to say, “If a player can stick his hand in the ground, you need him blocking and coming up on those linebackers, but whenever you have a player that is naturally a pass catcher, you can’t take that aspect out of his game, like we’ve seen in the past. With him having the tight end as an H-Back, you are always going to make our offense run smoother because you see what having a viable pass catcher as a tight end can do, like Jordan Reed did.”
Troupe has high hopes for the Gators team and thinks that going 4-8 last season may be the catalyst that they need, “I think the reasonable expectation for this season is to win the East and contend for an SEC Championship and I think anything less than that would be considered a failure, in my eyes, only because I know what we are capable of doing in the (SEC) East. We’ve got a lot of players, and coming off a 4-8 season and sitting on a hot seat, and I think that’s the best seat to be on because you don’t want to be comfortable in college football and because Muschamp knows what we need to do this season, I think we need to win the SEC East. There is no team in the East that we can’t beat or contend with.”
Troupe’s strong words weren’t just for the coaching staff, but also for players he and focused — numerous times — on accountability and the need for players to be accountable to each other, especially after going 4-8. “Playing at Florida is a privilege — you are not obligated to be here. No one player is going to make this team. We got to make sure that the best players, the number one recruit, and everyone on the 85 man roster know that they are all accountable to each other and that you are ready to play and step-out there on the field,” Troupe noted. “There is no room for any player to be walking around with their chest out, you’ve got everything to prove — not just the SEC.”
Troupe further elaborated that it is not just current players on the team feeling that way, but the way many recruits become glorified before they step on campus, which he notes is the biggest difference he notices from the game since he played.
“The biggest thing about the game now is exposure; you have Twitter and Facebook. When we came into Florida we kind of knew Coach Spurrier, we kind of knew him and he kind of knew us, we knew some of the players; but when you come in now you have been calling on these guys, talking on Twitter, and you know everything about each other,” Troupe stated. “The level of responsibility for these players now has really increased, but you are now really under a microscope. It used to be that if a recruit was coming to Florida from California, nobody really knows who you are. They have to understand that, just because you appreciate the publicity means that you have to be willing to deal with the downside of it, like if you aren’t performing – you have to be able to deal with it.”
He did take the time to jump to players sides in the O’Bannon vs. NCAA case, saying that he sided with O’Bannon and thought players did deserve some compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness. Troupe noted a very specific reason that he supported O’Bannon saying, “I do support O’Bannon because I know how tough it is to go to the NFL, and how blessed I was to go. For most of these players, the last time that they are going to strap on a helmet is in college, so you are going to try to utilize the most you can while you have it.”
He believes that many college players don’t quite have enough money to live and that is a huge struggle, “I support a cost of living stipend. I had a Pell Grant when I went to school and I have no idea where that money went – to this day. You are talking about a lot of players who never had the money, so if you are talking about players giving $500, to all players gymnastics, softball, all players – it shows that athletes that you care about them, and not just that you say you do.”
Troupe was obviously quite opinionated when it comes to sports and the Florida Gators because, well, that is now part of his job. Troupe has been working with Southern Pigskin recently and has been featured as part of the “Three & Out” radio show, while also writing bi-weekly in a column called “Troupe Talks”. To complement his writing and radio work, Troupe also runs his foundation and an organization called “WEAWEN”, which stands for “We All We Got We All We Need”. WEAWEN is a mentoring program that helps support students in reaching goals and dreams, while also serving as a mentor and public speaker.
He continues to stay in touch with former Gators Channing Crowder, Guss Scott, Keiwan Ratliff and others.
And Will Muschamp, if you are reading this, Troupe wants to come speak to the team. Troupe ended with, “I would love to go back to Gainesville and speak to the team and tell these young men how prestigious it is to be at the University of Florida. It’s not like “I’m just at Florida”, no, I feel like we are the “crème de la crème” and tell current players how fortunate they are to play at the University of Florida.”