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Ben Troupe, A Special Player and Person

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Ben Troupe will be celebrated for his contributions to the Florida-Georgia series, a fitting classification for someone who loves both his home state and his home school.

It's one of the greatest blessings that has ever been bestowed upon me as an athlete. Growing up in Georgia, just loving the game of football, I never imagined that I would be able to play for a team as prestigious as Florida or to be able to impact the series.
~Ben Troupe

One point separated Florida from 5th-ranked Georgia late in the fourth quarter in 2002. The Gators, 4-3 and reeling from recent losses to Ole Miss and LSU, were facing an undefeated Bulldogs bunch considered one of the top contenders for a spot in the national championship game. With less than 12 minutes remaining, Rex Grossman, deep in UGA territory, threw a short jump ball into the endzone. Ben Troupe and Thomas Davis, a pair of future All-Americans, were battling for position; Troupe came down with the game-winning touchdown, one of the most memorable scores in Florida history.

It was a seminal moment for Troupe in a place where he would later return multiple times as a member of the NFL's Tennessee Titans. A Swainsboro, Georgia-native, Troupe was born and raised where the county high school is nicknamed the Bulldogs and their colors are red and black.  Moving to Augusta as a teenager, he played his prep football at Butler, home of, you guessed it, the Bulldogs. Peach State to paydirt, Troupe's career, to that point, had come full circle.   

"This feels good,'' a young Troupe nodded postgame. "I can go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas now."

Why the athletic talent left, in the first place, was quite simple in both reason and recollection: Steve Spurrier. There was no drawn-out courtship, detailed sales pitch or dramatic back-and-forth. Known for his way with words, the 'Head Ball Coach', letting others do the talking, walked into Troupe's living room with a very basic question; "Ben, are you with us?". That was all it took to get one of the nation's top tight ends to leave home. Five simple words from Spurrier in Augusta resulted in six critical points for Ron Zook's Gators in Jacksonville.

In retrospect, that final touchdown might have been worth more than what it added to Florida's tally. Troupe's score helped him develop the momentum to ultimately earn first-team All-American honors and finish as a Mackey Award finalist for the Gators and, for their archrivals, most likely kept Georgia, 13-1 and winners of the SEC, from playing for a national championship.     

To this day, Troupe looks back on the moment a little more modestly.

"I just remember being very, very tired," he chuckled. "That was a long drive and I was just trying to make a play. They had now All-Pro Thomas Davis playing safety and he was matched up right over me. I got a good move off the line and it was cover zero so there was no safety. Rex gave me a nice little ball in the endzone. I managed to get my hands on it and I thank God I was able to hold onto it."

Troupe's playing career was a remarkable one. In addition to his aforementioned individual honors, Troupe won an SEC Championship as a freshman, served as a Florida team captain as a senior and went a perfect 4-0 versus the Bulldogs, recording the play of the game in 2002 and leading the team in receiving in the contest in 2003. Troupe went on to be selected 40th overall in the 2004 NFL Draft, catching 106 passes for 1,056 yards and seven touchdowns for Tennessee. His hurdling of defenders remains a popular reference. 

For all that he experienced and accomplished, Troupe's memories of playing in one of college football's best rivalries are among his favorite.

"It means everything. When you are talking about the University of Florida and the University of Georgia, you're talking about arguably the best school in each state, you're talking about representing the best of high school football. We love our football in both states. To be a part of this kind of rivalry is the greatest," he explained. "This is the only time that we have to share a stadium. We have to eat at the same places, stay at the same hotels. It's a love-hate thing, but we need each other, and to be part of that is the best feeling in the world."

Passion and production, Troupe will soon be recognized as a member of the 2016 Merrill-Lynch/Bank of America Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame Presented by Ruth's Chris on Friday, October 28th as part of the annual Georgia-Florida weekend. Troupe, who will enter alongside former UF kicker Jeff Chandler and former UGA defensive lineman Marcus Stroud and defensive back Scott Woerner, will join a fraternity that features many of the respective program's all-time legendary figures. This edition will mark the Hall of Fame's 21st class.

"It's one of the greatest blessings that has ever been bestowed upon me as an athlete. Growing up in Georgia, just loving the game of football, I never imagined that I would be able to play for a team as prestigious as Florida or to be able to impact the series," Troupe beamed. "To be considered one of the greatest athletes to come through this game, not only for Florida, but Georgia, too, is one of the greatest honors and I'm truly humbled."

In the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame, much of Troupe's life, having grown into a man in the two neighboring states, will be on display. A special spot on the wall, in addition to a special place in his heart, has officially been reserved. There, Troupe will be featured with players he grew up watching, stars like Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel and Herschel Walker. Troupe will also be showcased alongside fierce foes against whom he competed, opponents such as the toughest college player he ever faced, David Pollack.

Most poignantly, Troupe will soon share residence with the man with whom he once shared his home, the man who single-handily brought him across state lines.

Gone, for the 34-year old former Gator, are the bright lights and the box scores. Troupe's influence, however, has never been more significant. The former standout player has made it his mission to educate and inspire, positively impacting those around him through community engagement, public speaking and non-profit service work. Simply put, Troupe has used his platform to help people. His love for others is a power well beyond his 6'4'' frame.   

Along with his football abilities, Troupe's desire to serve was cultivated at Florida. He learned about life, and just how precious it truly is, volunteering at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. From an occasional visit, Troupe, there, became a regular. As a professional, he was active with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Read to America organization. Troupe's contributions continue, in various capacities, all over the country.  

"I've always felt like my life was a culmination of so many people that helped me, so I think that my success belongs to everyone except myself," Troupe concluded. "To be able to give something back to the next generation, give hope to the hopeless, inspire those who have been uninspired, encourage those who have been discouraged, is the greatest thing I'm doing. I'm shining light in a dark place and, if nothing else, letting these kids know that if God can do it for me, He can do it for you."

Troupe is 260 pounds of utter originality. He grew up drinking the broth from Vienna Sausage cans in the east Georgia woods. He has a cousin they call Beaver-Dog. He describes himself as a large-faced gentleman. He has a love for life that is that is powerful and contagious, a smile so big only a facemask can cover it.

Years ago, Troupe was the type of player a team could turn to in the clutch. Now, he's the type of person who can brighten your day.

I first met Troupe as a young radio host looking for guests to talk college football. Growing up near the state line, Troupe was a player, a few years older than me, I remembered and reached out to via an email to his official website. Looking to build a network of media members, former coaches and players, I sent out hundreds of these requests over a multi-month span as I settled in to hosting my own show. With Troupe, I didn't hear back for close to a year.

One afternoon, I got a call from Troupe, still relatively fresh out of the NFL. We talked for longer than I would have expected, developing a very real rapport without some of the rigidity conversations like these sometimes have. Troupe seemed genuine and interested. His energy, palpable even through the phone, was fascinating. We set up a weekly segment on my daily show, tackling football's biggest topics.      

Perhaps it was our relative proximity in age and interests, but my interviews with Troupe took on a rhythm all their own. Following the lead of his personality, mine, more shy and timid in nature, started to grow. Troupe gave me confidence, validation and, like the Gators and Titans, a true go-to playmaker. Doing your own radio show can be a scary thing; Troupe, for me, came through quite often on 3rd-and-long.      

Both on the phone and in person, I developed a meaningful relationship with a football player that, through high school, I watched almost every weekend. As my career inched forward, Troupe was there pushing the pile; as my brand was built, he was holding the hammer. Troupe came to my hometown and, free of charge, attended live broadcasts as a celebrity guest. He helped me with various fundraisers. He even did late-night trivia with me at a local sports bar.

Unplanned, Troupe showed up to a live fantasy football draft with me and my college friends. He stayed the whole time, answering questions and offering insight while sitting on a floor with a dozen football-nerds, laptops and projection magazines.      

I'm in awe when I watch Troupe speak. He's so honest and personable, regardless of the audience. One morning at an alternative school, I watched him talk with, not to, dozens of students who had been through considerable adversity at a young age. As fluid and fleet-of-foot as he was on the field, Troupe took their questions with concerning interest, offering the perfect advice when I was clueless as to how he would answer. At the end of the session when most wanted Troupe's autograph, he made them a deal; Troupe would sign for them, if they signed for him. It was an empowering moment. He kept the dozens of signatures, on scrap sheets and ripped pieces, with him as he left.  

A family man, Troupe now lives in New Jersey. I've met his beautiful wife and his lovely daughter. He has visited with mine, from my wife and children to my mom, dad and brother. One of my favorite pictures of my baby girl is her in Troupe's arms with a huge smile on his face. My father, a retired Colonel who quite honestly isn't impressed by much, still gets excited when we talk about his favorite Florida Gator.   

Ben is the definition and embodiment of a great friend. Every time I call, he answers. Anything I ask, he does. Those are courtesies I don't always reciprocate, shortcomings he never points out. When I was going through some serious health problems months ago, Troupe sent me a message so uplifting it made my mother emotional. That's the type of person he is.

Troupe still joins me, and now Matt Osborne and Kevin Thomas, every Wednesday to talk football, my show a little bigger, along with both of our waistlines. At the end of every single segment, Troupe offers listeners an inspirational tip. He is one of the few people in the world I have talked to every week for each of the last eight years. Always there, candid and full of joy, Ben makes me see the best in things, and makes me disappointed in myself that I occasionally have to use him to point it all out.
      
I want to be more like Ben Troupe, a distinction that has nothing to do with catching a touchdown pass.

College football is more than just a game to many people. It's an opportunity for countless student-athletes to further themselves academically, culturally and socially. It can be a way out for some, a new beginning. It can be a conduit for others, bringing people, from various different backdrops, together. 

Long ago, Troupe told me how special the Florida-Georgia rivalry was to him, actually referencing how much it would mean to one day have a chance to be in the very hall of fame he will soon be entering. I couldn't be happier for him.  

Before the next Florida-Georgia game, Troupe will be celebrated for his contributions to the series, a fitting classification for someone who loves both his home state and his home school. Troupe found himself on the back-roads that cross that border, memories marked like map dots on his exit to adulthood. His next stop will be a meaningful one.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports