By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Call it a storybook beginning.
Michigan State wide receiver AJ Troup's career took yet another odds-defying turn when his first catch as a Spartan resulted in a 17-yard touchdown for a 21-0 lead in the first quarter of the 45-7 season-opening victory against Jacksonville State.
First of all, players who join teams as walk-ons, like Troup did in 2010, don't ever get a chance to make such a play. Secondly, players who undergo one operation to repair a torn ACL rarely come back to make such a play; Troup has had three such surgeries, all on the same knee.
On the fourth play of MSU's fourth possession, quarterback Connor Cook was instructed to call a running play on first down. However, after surveying the defense, Cook changed the play at the line of scrimmage.
Troup, making his first appearance in a green and white uniform, ran a fade pattern into the end zone and out-jumped the defender for the score.
"I like to dream it up like that, but I didn't have any idea," he said. "I didn't even know if I was going to have a catch tonight, or what. But the fact that my first play and my first catch and my first touchdown was all on the same play is very special.
"It was just a great feeling. So many emotions running through my head and my body. I was just happy to get out."
The play came together as though the Spartan offense was in mid-season form.
"It was designed a run-play and (Cook) switched it," Troup said. "Connor said he saw the safety kind of come down, and Connor recognized it fast and made the switch and threw the ball up. We have a few options with that play, and the way the defense looked, yeah, I took the fade route.
"It was great coverage. Connor put great touch on the ball. It all happened so fast. I just saw the ball in the air, tried to high-point it and get my foot down. I guess the rest happened."
Senior wide receiver Tony Lippett, who preceded Troup with touchdown receptions of 64 and 71 yards, marveled at Troup's accomplishment.
"I was proud of Troup, man," said Lippett. "He's been one of the ones grinding ever since he got his injury. What a way to open up in Spartan Stadium - his first catch is a touchdown. I'm surprised he didn't have any tears because he's come a long way. An ACL injury. A lot of people didn't think he could overcome that obstacle."
Troup had three catches for 38 yards and Lippett had four for 167, and his first 100-yard receiving game for MSU.
"Fourteen months ago, he was in a position to help us offensively and he got hurt during the summer," said co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner. "He rehabbed that all over again and had a good summer. He's been in our top two-deep since the summer because we knew what he could do last year before he got hurt.
"He had a very good camp and we're just happy for him and want him to continue to grow as a receiver. We think he can continue to help us down the road."
The countless hours spent in the training room melted away in an instant for Troup.
"I just appreciate the grind," he said. "It all paid off. Obviously, there's still the full season ahead, but coming in with a chip on my shoulder, with my knee injuries, and coming in as a walk-on, just feels good and now we can move on to next week."