Offensive linemen understand that the role they play on a football team is much more about guts than fanfare.
Center Grove has nine such individuals — six starters and three backups. They measure success not by statistics or helmet stickers but by victories.
The Trojans are 10-0 entering Friday night’s Class 6A sectional title game against visiting Jeffersonville.
Since August, juniors Clay Hadley and Nick Davis, the left side of the line, have teamed with center Bailey Smith, right guard John Richardson and right tackle Chris Barnett to manufacture running alleys for Center Grove’s deep stable of backs.
The Trojans’ starting tight end is sophomore Cory Heinrichs.
The state’s No. 1-ranked team most of this season, the Trojans’ wing-T offense averages 316 rushing yards per game, with 34 rushing touchdowns to show for it. Center Grove also produces another 77.8 yards per outing by way of the passing game.
It all starts up front.
“The offensive line is definitely the most experienced part of our football team. It’s done a phenomenal job,” Center Grove coach Eric Moore said. “Last year they were so young, and they got a lot better as the season went on. This year they were pretty good when the season started.”
Despite being a junior, the 6-foot-1, 270-pound Hadley anchors the unit from his left tackle position.
Both he and Davis were made starters as sophomores, which means plenty of varsity experience for both despite still having the 2016 season to play. Richardson at 6-4, 315 pounds is the man for Trojans ball carriers to follow.
Hadley, Davis and Richardson were all starters a year ago.
“Hadley has been the most absolute consistent player all year,” Moore said. “You have to understand this is our 11th week and he played, what, 13 games last year. He’s really smart. His technique during games is almost perfect, and he’s just tenacious. Never takes a play off.
“And big John Richardson, when he’s healthy like the second half against Columbus North last week, he just dominates because of his size. Between those two guys is sort of how we go.”
Inserted into the lineup during the course of most games are junior Ethan Hart backing up Barnett at right tackle, senior Corbin Smith occasionally spelling Heinrichs and Harrison Holt, who despite weighing only 220 has proved he’s capable of coming in for the center or at either guard position.
Holt said, “I definitely see our offensive line as one of the strengths of the team. The way they work together during games, and how we all hang out together outside of football. We always have people competing for positions, the backups pushing the starters to be better.”
The longer Center Grove’s season lasts the better the offensive line must perform, starting with Friday’s game against Jeffersonville. Should the Trojans advance, they would face stiff defensive tests with possible dates against Warren Central (regional) and Cathedral (semistate) looming.
Richardson isn’t concerned. If the past 10 games have taught him anything it’s that a cohesive offensive line tends to be a productive one.
He credits Moore and the two assistant coaches assigned to work with the offensive linemen on a daily basis — Troy Dice (tackles/tight ends) and Andy Moore (guards/centers).
“In general our coaching staff has been awesome this season,” Richardson said. “We all respect each other, and we all know those who are on the field are going to do his job to the best of their ability.”
IN THE TRENCHES
#71 — Clay Hadley, 6-1, 270, junior left tackle
#66 — Nick Davis, 5-10, 260, junior left guard
#67 — Bailey Smith, 6-2, 255, junior center
#77 — John Richardson, 6-4, 315, senior right guard
#56 — Chris Barnett, 6-3, 280, senior right tackle
#97 — Cory Heinrichs, 6-3, 235, sophomore tight end
Off the bench
#64 — Harrison Holt, 5-11, 220, senior guard/center
#80 — Corbin Smith, 5-11, 195, senior tight end
#70 — Ethan Hart, 6-0, 245, junior tackle