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Former Penn State letterman reflects on NCAA football experience, gives back to Woodbury community

WOODBURY - Troy Shorts decided to take a chance on himself.

The gamble didn’t translate into record-breaking statistics or Heisman Trophy status. Instead it rendered into life-long memories, lessons and a motivation to impact the lives of others.

The 2015 Woodbury High School graduate is entering his second season as the Thundering Herd’s running backs and defensive backs coach under the direction of head coach Anthony Reagan.

“Coach Shorts has brought a lot of playing experience,” Reagan said. “(The experience) from both the high school and collegiate level has helped our guys on the field.”

Shorts attended Penn State from 2015 to 2018 as a preferred walk-on after helping Woodbury to a 10-2 record in 2012 and being named a first team All-Colonial Conference selection.

“My junior year I had a couple offers,” Shorts said. “After my senior year I didn’t really get that many offers that I wanted. I decided to walk on at Penn State. I had a couple friends that were going there — Irvin Charles and Juwan Johnson. My dad went there, too. He had a relationship with coach Terry Smith. I went and it was a great experience.”

Shorts was a member of the 2017 Rose Bowl runner-ups that featured his companion Johnson, Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders, Mike Gesicki, John Reid, Trace McSorley, Yetur Gross-Matos and Zech McPhearson, among others.

Saquon Barkley rushes against USC in the 2017 Rose Bowl. Patrick Mansell/Penn State University

The Nittany Lions defeated Wisconsin 38-31 in the Big Ten championship to advance to Pasadena, California. Penn State proceeded to fall to USC 52-49 in an instant classic.

“Winning the Big Ten championship and going to the Rose Bowl, those are experiences you can’t buy,” Shorts said. “It was definitely a great experience and it definitely helped me grow as a person as well. Playing D1 football isn’t easy.”

Shorts considers the opportunity of practicing with Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl wide receiver and Super Bowl LV champion Chris Godwin a privilege. The two were teammates for two seasons in State College, Pennsylvania. For Shorts, watching Godwin in-action was its own form of art. Godwin’s attentiveness and approach to the game was something he has tried to emulate in his own way.

“He was a technician as far as his work ethic and how he approached the game,” Shorts said. “He definitely had a different approach to the game than the average player. At practice he would be locked-in focused. He wouldn’t really goof around or talk much at practice. He was a class above me (and) I definitely looked up to him a lot and how he balanced school and football.”

“I’m just not surprised to see him in the NFL,” Shorts added. “He was a great person, a great teammate. It’s great to see him doing that. It’s inevitable when you have that type of work ethic.”

Chris Godwin runs with the ball against USC at the 2017 Rose Bowl. Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports

That’s why Shorts demands the best out of his players day in and day out.

“His expectations are high,” Woodbury defensive back Jabron Solomon said. “He pushes you to be the best. He just wants you to be the best you can be. He’s giving you the best advice he can give you because he played at a top level.”

“When I came in last year, I didn’t know what I was doing,” the junior added. “He just worked with me outside of practice, in practice. He helped me a lot.”

Solomon was the Thundering Herd’s leading receiver a season ago and also contributed in the secondary. Rising sophomore Wilson Torres joined Solomon in coverage and was also a key contributor with 14.5 tackles. The sophomore has thrived at camps this summer and is beginning to draw interest from schools, although nothing has been made official. Torres said he has Rutgers secondary coach Fran Brown’s phone number and that the two have had conversations. He also said that he received an email from Cincinnati.

“The camps have been good,” Torres said. “Just getting better every day and picking up the stuff I should be doing. The summer’s been going good, though.”

The defensive unit will be a key factor as the Thundering Herd look to improve on their 3-4 record from a season ago. Junior Dominic Abbatelli returns after recording 30.5 tackles and an interception in 2020. Three-year starter Derron Moore recorded three sacks and 26.5 tackles last season, in addition to rushing for 405 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The offense will be led by four-year starter Teddy Lockhart III. Lockhart III rushed for 602 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2020. Junior southpaw Bryan Johnson returns as the Thundering Herd’s signal caller and will look to build on his 491 passing yards and eight touchdowns from a season ago.

“So far we’ve been having a good minicamp,” Johnson said. “We got a new offensive coordinator so we’ve been working with him. Everyone’s getting fluid (in the offense).”

The Thundering Herd will look to celebrate their first winning season since 2019. It’s no secret that Shorts knows a thing or two about winning. The last time Woodbury totaled double-digit wins in a single season, Shorts was a member of the team.

The players are thankful for his presence.

“That’s special that he actually coaches,” Torres said. “A lot of guys from Woodbury that went to Woodbury High, they don’t really come back and coach. It’s cool that we got Coach Troy to come back and give us his best advice.”

Shorts is equally thankful that his contributions are paying off.

“It’s great to come back and help out,” Shorts said.

Cover photo via Troy Shorts’ Twitter account.

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