Freshman receiver Eafford emerging as big-play weapon for Troy offense
Just like anyone would, Troy freshman wide receiver Tray Eafford expressed delight after scoring his first collegiate touchdown against Georgia Southern Saturday.
Unlike some others, Eafford’s jubilation is the result of a long and arduous process that perhaps delayed the celebration by one year.
Eafford graduated from Lee County High in Leesburg, Ga., in 2016 – fully expecting to contribute to the Trojans’ squad last year. He was a three-star prospect, according to 247Sports, thanks to some top-end speed that today makes him one of the two fastest players on the team, according to head coach Neal Brown.
Eafford rolled into the Trojans’ fall camp and had several productive sessions, according to coaches. That all ended when the NCAA called into question one of his high school classes.
“He was eligible by all our standards. Then (the NCAA) dinged one of his classes like 14 days into fall camp,” Trojans co-offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield said. “He practiced whatever he could until that time was. He was looking good. He was showing signs, so we knew he had the potential to be pretty good.”
The Trojans appealed. Eafford and Lee County High School protested the decision, as well, Brown said.
It was all to no avail. The NCAA ruled Eafford ineligible, ending all of his associations with the team for the year.
“He couldn’t practice after that point, couldn’t work out with us, anything,” Brown said.
The situation made for some awkward moments for Eafford, who attended all of Troy’s home games as the Trojans went 10-3.
“It was very tough. I felt like I was a part of the team, but at the same time I wasn’t,” Eafford said. “People are asking me, ‘Am I coming out?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, I’m coming next year.’ It’s like I’m a regular fan, but I’m still trying to keep up with the team.”
Eafford dedicated himself in the classroom and out of it. He took 24 hours of classes and earned a grade-point average above 3.0, Brown said.
Off of it, Eafford said he tried to keep pace with the team in the weight room. While he was not able to use Troy’s athletic facilities to work out, he tried to mimic the team’s workout plan as much as he could.
“I lifted close to the TC (Trojan Center),” he said. “I lifted about two or three days a week, just trying to keep up with the coaches and their schedule and try to do some of the stuff they would do.”
The approach has apparently paid dividends. Despite the Trojans possessing a veteran wide receiving corps, Eafford ranks fifth on the team in receiving yardage (174 yards), and his 21.8 yards per catch dwarfs his teammates by a wide margin.
Eafford said the year off has fueled his emergence. Teammates and coaches witnessed the very same thing.
“He’s a guy that’s really driven. I think he has big-time talent,” Brown said. “The more understanding he has in how to play the game at the receiver position, I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
Eafford has definitely shown that potential in the last two weeks. Against Georgia State and Georgia South, he recorded six catches for 120 yards and the touchdown.
The efforts also appear to have helped the Trojans shake off some offensive sluggishness. After bottoming out with just eight points against South Alabama on Oct. 11, Troy scored a combined 72 points against the Georgia squads.
“We were missing a couple of things in the first couple of games. Now we’re kinda seeing what was missing,” Eafford said. “Once they added a couple of players like me, it’s like it’s amazing what we can do with all the talent that we have. It’s like the sky’s the limit.”
Coaches believe Eafford will continue to shine as the season progresses. The Trojans (6-2 overall, 3-1 Sun Belt Conference) face league foe Idaho (3-5, 2-2), which has given up almost 233 yards per game passing, on Thursday.
“I think he’s gotten better every week of the season,” Edenfield said. “He’s getting more confidence. I think we’re getting more confident in him, and it’s showing up on game days.”
Nothing may top the feeling of that first touchdown, though.
“It’s been more exciting than anything because it’s been awhile since I played football and scored a touchdown,” he said. “Just getting out there with my (teammates) and playing, getting into it with fans, it’s been amazing.”