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Troy Trojans hoping for strong rebound under 35-year-old coach Neal Brown

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TROY, Alabama — Troy coach Neal Brown's youthful look hasn't kept the Trojans from heeding his instruction.

The fresh-faced 35-year-old is gearing up for his first season leading a program that fell on hard times after a run of five straight Sun Belt Conference championships. That streak started when Brown was a 20-something assistant on his way to becoming the youngest offensive coordinator in FBS.

Brown is a decade older now, with a track record that includes running the offenses at Texas Tech and Kentucky as well as Troy.

"Coach does have a baby face," tailback Brandon Burks said Saturday at the Trojans' media day. "He hasn't got any facial hair. (But) we know who he is. The baby face is still sort of scary. He has the demeanor and the attitude behind it."

Brown inherits a team coming off a 3-9 season and going for its first winning season since 2010, when Troy capped that five-year run. He replaced 67-year-old Larry Blakeney, who retired after his 24th season in Troy.

Brown said players have bought in faster to a new coaching staff than at his previous stops. That comes despite changes in everything from players' diets to the fast pace of practice.

"You go into new situations a lot and there's guys that have been playing college football for four or five years and they're not too open to listening to new voices or trying to do things a different way," Brown said. "They're hard-headed, stubborn. We haven't had much of that here."

Brown retained much of Blakeney's coaching staff, bringing in only three new on-the-field coaches.

They've got a sizable task with a team that ranked 105th in scoring offense and 111th in scoring defense last season. Quarterback Brandon Silvers leads an offense that has nine returning starters after breaking Sam Bradford's NCAA record for completion percentage by a freshman (70.5).

Silvers, who had three head coaches in high school, said Brown brings energy and high expectations for his players into each practice. After all, the Trojans won Sun Belt titles in each of his seasons as an assistant from 2006-09, the last two as offensive coordinator.

"Everybody's been buying in," Silvers said. "If you want to play and you want to win, you have to do everything he says. None of us on the team have won championships and he has, so you've got to buy into whatever he says."

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