It’s one moment in a season full of moments. It does, however, make it clear how Troy safety Craig Slocum went from a seldom-used walk-on to one of the team’s top tacklers.

The moment came less than 12 hours after the Trojans returned from a heartbreaking loss at Appalachian State. The team’s charter flight landed about midnight and everyone headed in their own direction. Troy head coach Jon Sumrall went home, got a few hours of sleep, attended church and then headed into the office at about 11 a.m. on Sunday.

“Craig Slocum was sitting there in the DB room, by himself, watching tape, unsolicited by the coaches,” Sumrall said. “We had no meetings at that time. We had meetings later in the day. He puts as much hard work into the development to be the best that he can be as anybody on our team. No surprise that good things happen to people who work really hard.”

Slocum, a 6-foot, 201-pound safety, will play a big role in Thursday night’s Sun Belt Conference showdown against South Alabama at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Once the ball kicks off at 6:30, it won’t be hard to notice him, just look for the football.

There was a time, though, that it wasn’t easy to notice Slocum. He arrived from Union County High in Lake Butler, Florida, as a walk-on. His first two seasons were far from noticeable. Slocum was a scout team player as a true freshman and played in one game on special teams the following season.

Things began to change in 2019. Slocum played more special team snaps (256) than anybody else on the team. He also worked into the rotation at safety, collecting 23 tackles with two pass breakups and a forced fumble at Texas State.

Sumrall wasn’t with the program at the time, but he knows how Slocum reached that point.

“He’s a worker, man,” Sumrall said.

Slocum was put on scholarship in fall camp before the 2020 season and started 10 games that fall. He was sixth on the team with 45 tackles. Last season, Slocum wasn’t a starter but played a big role on defense and special teams. He finished with 28 tackles.

This season, he’s been better than ever. Slocum already had a career-best 53 tackles with an interception, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. The key, Slocum said, is the guys around him.

“Really just (defensive coordinator Shiel Wood) emphasizing running to the ball each and every week,” Slocum said. “He tells us good things happen around the ball. I just try to get to the ball on each and every play and good things happen. Everybody on our defense just flies around to the ball. It’s like a race, everybody is competing and trying to make a play.”

This week’s challenge in the passing game is one of the toughest tests this season for the Troy secondary. South Alabama quarterback Carter Bradley is spreading the ball around to a variety of receivers. Last week, the Jaguars had three receivers with more than 100 yards in receptions.

“They got some guys who make big plays for them on the perimeter,” Slocum said. “They like to run the ball, they got a good running back. We’ve got to stop the run. This week, we got to handle our job in the back end, in the secondary, stopping the explosive plays.”

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