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Florala duo enters final year at TSU

Troy State University's football program continues to grow.

Senior football players Neal Oates Jr. and Garrett Anderson, both graduates of Class 1A Florala High School, know what it is like to play at a small program.

They know what it feels like to be at a small school because of their tenure on the gridiron as Wildcats during their high school careers. They were part of special teams at Florala High School, including an undefeated regular season.

Now, they know what it is like to be a part of something special in another sense. Oates and Anderson now know what it feels like to be part of a big-time college football program.

They know because they have been there while the Troy State program has grown by leaps and bounds.

In 2001, the Troy State football program joined the ranks of Division I-A competition. The Trojans hit the gridiron for games against Nebraska, Miami and Maryland.

The Trojans have inked deals to add more top-notch programs to the schedule in the future with games against Florida, LSU, South Carolina, Georgia, Iowa State, Missouri, Virginia and Arkansas.

Oates and Anderson have also been members of the football program as it signed on as the newest member of the Sun Belt Conference. The seniors, however, will be gone when the membership begins with the 2004 season.

Regardless, Oates and Anderson have been a part of the growth and intend on leaving Troy State ready to prosper in big-time college football.

It hasn't been easy.

The Trojans are currently busy practicing for the upcoming 2003 season. Oates and Anderson both agree the practices have gone well, but quickly add that the practices have been held in hot conditions.

"It's going good," Oates said. "It's just hot is all - real hot."

Anderson echoed Oates sentiments about practice.

"It's going real good. It's just a little warm," Anderson said.

The price of practicing on hot afternoons is worth it.

"It's great," Anderson said. "I really will be proud of being a part of the Troy State football program because it is a I-A team.

"I'm excited and happy to be a part of it," he added.

Oates said the growth of the football program during his tenure at Troy State is the best part of his college experience as a student-athlete.

"The highlight for me so far is just to see the growth of Troy State University and to be a part of it," Oates said.

Anderson agrees.

"Each year it's been a new challenge as we just continue to move up," Anderson said. "We have a new stadium with a big JumboTron. It's great to be a part of something like that."

Oates, who has earned three varsity letters in football, expects to get plenty of playing time again this season on defense and special teams.

Oates is currently second on the depth chart at weakside linebacker and plays on special teams as a wedge buster on kickoff coverage and punt coverage. He is also on the field for kick returns and punt returns.

He said it looks like he'll see a lot of playing time this season which would allow him to add to his career statistics that include 21 tackles in 35 games.

"For me, it's looking pretty good," Oates said. "I'm playing behind Bernard Davis and sub into the game in different situations.

"I'm going to get a lot of playing time this year," Oates added.

Oates and Anderson will both dress out for all of Troy State's games this season.

Anderson said he is currently third on the depth chart at tight end and continues to work with the second-team extra-point squad.

Both former Florala Wildcats are excited about the upcoming season and believe the Trojans have a chance to win some games against teams in which some football fans will have them as underdogs.

"Right now, we've just been focusing on coming together as a team," Anderson said. "I think everybody has high expectations and believe that we can really play with some teams.

"We can play with Nebraska," he added. "I think we can turn some heads this year."

Oates said the goal is to play Troy State football and not worry about who the opponent is each week.

"For the team, we're not trying to shock the world anymore," Oates said. "We just want to go out and play Trojan football.

"We want to play team ball and be unified because when we play together we're as good as anybody," he added. "We can play with anyone."

The college football career of Oates and Anderson is coming to a close, but it has been a special time for both of them dating all the way back to junior varsity.

"For us, this is something we have talked about for a long time," Oates said. "We started playing together in the ninth grade.

"It's like a brother relationship. We are there for each other," he added.

Anderson agreed and said the two former Wildcats have become even closer friends at Troy State.

"He's a great guy and a great athlete," Anderson said about Oates. "It's great to have somebody on your side. We've been real good friends and we're never lonely because we have someone here from our hometown."

The 2003 college football season could be the last in a long string of games the two have played together. It has been a long trip, but both Oates and Anderson are enjoying the ride and plan to leave Troy State University with a solid foundation for a great football program at the Division I-A level.

"We played junior high school basketball together and junior varsity football together and just went from there," Anderson said.

They've gone a long way, but they're not finished yet.