The months between Tyler Pence’s junior and senior football seasons proved time well spent for the Center Grove cornerback.
After starting the final six games in 2014, Pence used the offseason to dedicate himself to improving his strength, speed and technique in both running and passing situations. The results are impressive.
At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Pence is 20 pounds of muscle heavier than at this point last season and making a name for himself on a defense with no shortage of stars.
“This has been a better season for me than my junior year. It’s been a breakout season for me with how consistent I’ve been,” said Pence, currently the Trojans’ third-leading tackler (54) whose 22 pass deflections is nearly half the team’s total.
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Pence has caused one fumble this season and is tied for the top spot in interceptions (two) with junior linebacker Bailey Bennett.
He might have enjoyed the best game of his career in Center Grove’s Class 6A sectional opener at Columbus North on Oct. 23. With nine tackles and an interception, he played a major role in the Trojans’ 34-7 victory.
The senior also picked off Warren Central quarterback Zach Summeier midway through the second quarter of last week’s 24-13 regional win at Warren Central, returning the football all the way to the Warriors’ 4-yard line (an illegal block on the return brought the ball back to the Warren Central 34).
Center Grove defensive coordinator Chad Daniels admires the progress Pence has made since being switched from safety to cornerback midway through his junior season.
At the same time, Daniels, a member of head coach Eric Moore’s staff since 2005, knows Friday’s 6A semistate game against sixth-ranked Avon (10-2) qualifies as an entirely different set of challenges.
The Orioles feature quarterback Brandon Peters, a University of Michigan signee who averages 233.6 yards passing per game. The 6-5, 210-pound senior has thrown 35 touchdowns this season and been intercepted only five times.
“We switched Tyler to cornerback knowing he was someone we wanted to get on the field. He’s a competitor, and his coverage skills have improved,” Daniels said. “This week will be a good challenge for those guys back there (defensive secondary).”
Joining Pence in the secondary as starters are seniors Connor Steeb (46 tackles) and Blake Moran (22) and junior Logan Bontrager (35).
“Tyler has really overachieved on the football field. Last season he was playing junior varsity one week and starting varsity the next,” Moore said. “It’s tough for young kids to get on the field in our program, but Tyler bought into the concept and is really enjoying playing football with a lot of his friends.”
Like many Center Grove football players past and present, Pence got to where he is through the concept of patience and dedication leading to opportunity.
Pence sought to get better, did and is now one of the primary contributors for a defense allowing 13.2 points a game this season (and an especially stingy 6.6 in the Trojans’ past five victories).
“I don’t think of myself as a late bloomer,” said Pence, who on Monday was one of four Center Grove defensive players named to the All-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference Team (along with tackles Jovan Swann and Cameron Tidd and linebacker Jackson Sodrel).
“I wanted to come in this season and perform to the best of my abilities, and help the team the best I can.”
THE PENCE FILE
Name: Tyler Pence
Family: Parents, Todd and Jenny; brothers, Nate, 16, and Matt, 14
Favorite TV show: “Dexter”
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite movie: “Fight Club”
Favorite athlete: Andrew Luck
Favorite team: Indiana Pacers