Former Michigan State wide receiver A.J. Troup making a name for himself in Hollywood
His time with MSU football was marred by injuries, but helped him develop resilience. Troup now hopes to make his career mark as an actor.
EAST LANSING, Mich. – A.J. Troup was coming off a breakout 2013 spring and was primed to turn heads at Spartan Stadium that fall after being sidelined for his first two seasons at Michigan State.
He and his teammates were also uber competitive too, sometimes working out two, three and even four times a day. Troup and a few of his teammates decided to hop the fence at the MSU football building to run some extra routes with the 2013 fall camp on the horizon.
That day, he tore his left ACL for the third time. Troup never considered giving up, even with two previous major knee injuries. But for the first time in his life, the thought crossed his mind as his dream of being a Big Ten wide receiver began to look bleak…again.
“For a second, even if it was a second, maybe then I had a slight sliver of doubt,” Troup said. “I remember calling my girlfriend, who is my wife now, like, bawling. I remember being in my apartment in East Lansing against the wall just like, 'How could this possibly happen? I'm so close to potentially even starting.’”
That wasn’t who Troup was. He wasn’t a quitter. He still isn’t. It wasn’t how his single mother raised him. He never quit after tearing his ACL two previous times.
Troup rallied back to catch his first career touchdown in the season-opener of the very next season.
Nearly a decade later, he’s rallied again. He ditched the shoulder pads after MSU and moved to Los Angeles where Troup, now 30, is grinding his way through Hollywood as an actor.
He’s played a stormtrooper in an episode of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” and has appeared in numerous commercials for some of the most noticeable brands in America.
“Never once did he ever show that he was upset, depressed, down and out, whatever,” former teammate and star MSU quarterback Connor Cook said. “He always had such a great attitude, such a great approach to everything. And I think you're seeing that same approach in why he's been able to succeed thus far in Hollywood, and things don't happen overnight in Hollywood. That's for sure.”
FINDING HIS WAY
Troup was raised as an only child in the suburbs of Minneapolis by his single, Jewish mother. His father, who is Black, has been out of the picture. Troup ballparks he was somewhere around 12 when he last saw his father.
Dancing was one of Troup’s first passions; he did it competitively for 10 years. It’s part of why he obtained a minor in theater at Michigan State.
In the fifth grade, Troup, went to his mom, Stephanie. He asked to switch from the Hopkins school district to the Wayzata school district – a conference rival known for having one of the top football programs in the state. Stephanie honored her young son’s request, and the two moved into the Wayzata district.
“He did real well out there,” Stephanie said. “He had a lot of different friends. He wanted to be with better athletes than he was, so that he would push himself to be better.”
Troup began to experience the struggles of being a minority in a predominantly white, Chrisitan community as he grew older. At 15, he was jumped and beaten in a nearby rural town, landing landing in the hospital. His mother tried her best to sympathize with her son’s challenges, but at the end of the day, Troup was black and she was not.
“I didn't do him any favors, I don't think, raising him out there,” Stephanie said. “However, I don't think it would have been right to go into the city because I was clueless, you know. I felt my support system was out in the suburbs, and it seemed to have worked out.
“And thank God, like I say for the Saunders [Family of former Minnesota Timberwolves head coaches Flip and Ryan Saunders] and a few other families, that based on color, they were helpful to me and some people were not.”
As high school approached, and Troup shifted his focus to football and track, his dream of playing college football was looking like a legitimate possibility. He held offers from North Dakota, North Dakota State and Northern Illinois. But, it was Michigan State that peaked Troup’s interest.
Wayzata, in part led by Troup, an all-conference wide receiver, was defending its 2008 state championship in the Minnesota tournament. But then, out of nowhere, something didn’t feel right. Troup was injured during a game.
“It felt like my leg fell off,” Troup said.
At the hospital, Troup refused to take off his gold helmet. He wasn’t a coward and certainly did not want to let his team down. It was his first left ACL tear.
Then, six months later, Troup was rehabbing at a training facility. He lost his footing during cone drills on the turf, and bam, he was back to square one tearing the same ACL, just months before he was supposed to arrive in East Lansing.
But, again, he didn’t back down.
“I called my recruiting coordinator at Michigan State, and told him and I for sure thought, I was over,” Troup said.
THE EAST LANSING JOURNEY
MSU Coach Mark Dantonio gave him a chance and still welcomed Troup as a preferred walk-on. Troup spent what would’ve been his first fall in East Lansing back home in Minnesota rehabbing from torn ACL No. 2.
“I don't even remember. It's such a blur,” Troup said. “I was miserable, bro. Like, can you imagine like all your friends going to school, playing college football that fall and you're stuck back in Plymouth, Minnesota? It sucked dude.”
Just like Troup had in his senior year of high school, he finally appeared to be turning a corner in spring 2013. He was fully healthy, and went from preferred walk-on to being the star of spring camp.
Then Troup and his teammates hopped the fence at the MSU practice facility and he blew out his knee for a third time.
“At that point in time Troup was like the best receiver that we had,” Cook said. “We had guys like Bennie Fowler who went to the NFL, guys like Keith Mumphrey who went to the NFL, Aaron Burbridge who went to the NFL. Troup, it was like the spring of 2013 I want to say, and he was by far having the best spring out of all the receivers.”
It took three years for Troup to see his first game action for the Spartans. In the 2014 season-opener versus Jacksonville State, Troup caught his first career touchdown on his first catch as a Spartan. It was thrown by Cook, who also later went on to be roommates with Troup. Cook checked out of the initial run play and dialed up a fade designed for Troup.
Troup finished his Michigan State career with nine catches for 141 yards in 21 games. He then put an end to his football career after a brief stint at the Kansas City Chiefs rookie mini-camp.
“And after that man like I can confidently say I think I had given everything I had to the sport with all the injuries and passion,” Troup said. “I was like done. My body hurt.”
TIME TO CHART A NEW COURSE
Troup went back home to Minnesota, welcomed by his mom, under one condition: he had 30 days to figure out a plan. He hit up one of cousins, who had an acting studio in Denver. Fowler was playing for the Broncos at the time, and three weeks later Troup packed his bags and moved in with him.
After eight months of taking acting classes in Denver and living with Fowler, the two made their way to Los Angeles where Fowler trained in the offseason. Troup helped out with student films at the University of Southern California and was paid next to nothing. He started to make connections in Hollywood, but lived off a friend’s couch while he attempted to stay afloat.
Eventually, he found an agent and soon started climbing the ladder. He’s shot commercials for Domino’s Pizza, AT&T, McDonald’s, RumChata and played Rory in Hulu’s “Pam and Tommy”.
But perhaps one of his biggest milestones is the unrecognizable role of a stormtrooper in “Obi-Wan Kenobi”. Troup had a full conversation in the scene with star Ewan McGregor, who plays Obi-Wan Kenobi. There was absolutely no telling that it was Troup, unless he took his helmet off.
“I didn't even know I was a stormtrooper until I got to my fitting, but it was very cool man,” Troup said. “It was a milestone for sure. I had prayed and manifested of being able to work on the biggest sets, the most expensive, the biggest budgets and it doesn't get too much bigger than Star Wars. So it was a huge blessing and an experience that I'll never forget and being able to work with Ewan McGregor, who's a seasoned vet, was an opportunity of a lifetime.”
In Troup’s eyes, Hollywood is similar in a sense to his experience in sports. Outside of a few rare exceptions, nobody just lands a starting wide receiver job. The same can be said for a lead role in a big production. It’s a cutthroat grind where people either make it - or they don’t.
“I can practice, practice, practice,” Troup said. “I can sit on the JUGS machine and have Connor throw me the ball as many times, but it ain't gonna be like it is running across the middle at the Big House and having somebody trying to take your head off.”
COMING TO TERMS
A year and a half ago, Troup had a change in mindset. He and his wife, Shannon, who was a member of the Michigan State women’s golf team, were expecting their first child, a boy. Troup became curious about himself and began to self-reflect and journal on everything about his life from being biracial, living life with an absent father and to his left knee that just kept setting him back again, again and again.
“I had just been trying to figure out why I tick the way I tick, why I am the way I am from the ground up,” Troup said.
Troup created multiple shorts, bringing light to some of the challenges he’s faced throughout his life. Last Father’s Day was his first as a dad, inspiring him to release a powerful and emotional monologue, simulating what he would say if he encountered his father today.
He titled it “If Given The Chance.”
“That came as a surprise to me,” Stephanie said. “I had no idea that he was so angry as he should be with his father.”
Troup had no idea either. Now with Shiloh, his eight month-old boy,, he never realized while growing up what he missed out on without having a father. It’s given him an extra appreciation for what his mother went through too.
“My mom's always been supportive of anything that I've set my mind to,” Troup said. “She's the epitome of a strong, single parent.”
While Troup said his next obtainable goal as an actor is to become series regular – meaning a primary character across multiple episodes of a show – he’s cautious to put a cap on where he can go. He mainly just wants to be there for his wife and his son, something that his father never did.
“Right now it's being the best human being I can be, the best father I can be, the best husband, the best actor in the craft that I can be as A.J.,” Troup said. “And where that's appreciated, I think it will be, and I'll book from there.”