How helmet award stickers are distributed to Center Grove football players is virtually unchanged from when Eric Moore became head coach.
Every Thursday after practice two assistant coaches — one representing the Trojans’ offense, another the defense — hand out what’s been earned from the most recent game.
If the team is victorious, every offensive player receives one miniature red football sticker; defensive players each earn one red skull-and-crossbones sticker.
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After that it’s performance-based, with the occasional football/skull merger (think special teams tackles or interceptions for touchdowns).
The other Johnson County program utilizing award stickers is Greenwood, where a points system determines how many miniature hatchets are distributed for each Woodmen player’s matte green helmet.
Both Moore and Greenwood coach Mike Campbell permit players to apply the stickers themselves, though there are specific guidelines. After all, to wear a school’s uniform is to represent a brand.
“It’s important the stickers look good and aren’t just stuck on the helmet looking sloppy. A lot of hard work and pride goes into earning the stickers, so we take pride in having them on our helmets,” said Trojans kicker Nathanael Snyder, who currently has 18 footballs and two skulls on his helmet.
“We put the stickers on the back right side of the helmet and go about halfway up before starting a new row.”
Ohio State University football coach Woody Hayes is frequently credited with starting the award sticker craze. Looking for a fresh way to motivate his 1968 Buckeyes team, Hayes — with the help of longtime Ohio State trainer Ernie Biggs — began awarding stickers with buckeye leaves to deserving players.
Colleges and high schools eventually began applying their own spin, with helmet stickers resembling everything from paw prints to dog bones to footballs to stars — basically whatever best fit a program’s mascot and/or team colors.
Nearly a half-century later they’re still going strong as a silent form of motivation.
“It’s something I inherited from (former Woodmen) coach (Rick) Wimmer. It’s one of those traditions we’ve kept alive. Football is the ultimate team game, but I also think kids like to have recognition,” said Campbell, the Woodmen coach since 2006.
“I think it helps you self-scout. Who’s playing well. Who’s in on tackles. It promotes our defense to try and get 11 helmets on the football every play.”
What kind of season a player is having can be right there on the helmet.
Greenwood senior receiver Jackson Daugherty earned a career-high six hatchets for the back of his helmet following the team’s 42-23 victory at Plainfield in Week 5.
In that game, Daugherty finished with four receptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns, three tackles from his cornerback position, and an interception return for a score.
“I’ve started on the side and kind of moved up. We’re not supposed to make it too crazy. Just make it look nice, and (Campbell) always gives us the freedom to do that,” Daugherty said. “It’s always nice getting them, seeing what you’ve done. It’s pretty cool to see it.”
The two-way player is something of a dinosaur at Center Grove, now a Class 6A program.
Moore tells the story of 2005 graduate J.B. Paxson, who by the latter stages of his senior season showcased numerous footballs and skulls on his helmet.
“I remember Paxson, who played both defensive end and tight end for us. His helmet was red by the end of the season. It was ridiculous,” Moore said with a laugh. “You want kids to keep motivated all through the season.”
Following today’s Center Grove practice, senior defensive tackle Jovan Swann will add to his helmet’s family of 28 skulls after a five-tackle performance in last week’s 44-26 victory at Lawrence Central.
Swann’s number would be higher — perhaps even Paxson-like — if he doubled as a contributor to the Trojans’ wing-T offense.
Should Center Grove remain undefeated late into October, there might not be room on Swann’s helmet for footballs anyway.