They are student teachers of the gridiron. Three Center Grove football players from coach Eric Moore’s 2000 state finals team are now assistants as the Trojans seek to avenge a championship game loss to Penn and claim their second crown.
Keith Dietel, Nick Lyon and Andy Moore are an intriguing bridge between Trojan football past and future. Having graduated in 2003, 2002 and 2001, respectively, all three players returned to Center Grove to coach under Moore.
Today, they will help lead the undefeated, Class 6A No. 1 Trojans in the state championship game against the same Kingsmen program they met 15 years ago.
Dietel, Lyon and Moore recently sat down with the Daily Journal and discussed the growth in the Center Grove program over that span.
DJ: Let’s go back to 2000. To remember that season, you can’t just start talking about Penn. You’ve got to go back to that remarkable 30-28 semistate upset of Ben Davis. Take us back to then.
Dietel: The thing that always sticks in my mind about that Ben Davis game is that we were huge underdogs and just how cold it was. Watching the film the next day, you could see the steam coming out of everyone’s mouths. Coach said we looked like a bunch of horses going after each other.
Lyon: Ben Davis was the program with (coach) Dick Dullaghan and (star player) James Banks, maybe the best quarterback in the state. Here was Center Grove, trying to put ourselves on the map for the first time. Just to come out with that victory was phenomenal. And yes, it was the coldest game I ever remember playing or coaching in.
Moore: I don’t know what these guys are talking about it being so cold. I didn’t wear any sleeves. I remember my buddy, No. 7, Matt Kaler, every time he got the ball on the counter crisscross, and I think he ran 120 yards. They just couldn’t stop it. Eric McClurg had a great game that night. Jonny Zwitt was our alpha dog, but we had other guys to step up and make plays.
DJ: The next week it was a little bit warmer in the RCA Dome in the state title game against Penn. Obviously the game didn’t turn out like you wanted, but what do you recall of the experience?
Lyon: Leading up to that game, the support from students, faculty and everyone was something. Pep rallies during lunch in the cafeteria. At practice, we got to go to the Colts complex. We were in awe seeing Peyton Manning practicing. Just that whole experience was something. What high school football player gets that opportunity? It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
DJ: Absolutely, and it was validation for coach Moore very early in his career here. You guys must have thought, “What the heck is this wing-T thing and how are we ever going to learn it?”
Moore: Obviously, a lot of people initially questioned coach Moore and his offense. The first year we went 5-5, so no one was really set on it. When you look back on it now 15 years later, you see that is what laid the foundation.
Dietel: Coach Moore now is like a second dad to me. All the things I have got in life I attribute to him and my own father. That 2000 state game was a validation of coach Moore and his program. It laid the foundation for what was to follow.
DJ: As players and coaches, you’ve been able to observe coach Moore from different perspectives and also have been able to see him change over 15 years. What is it about coach Moore that has changed or that you first didn’t see as a player?
Moore: Going back to the decision to bring in coach Moore, I was on the hiring committee as a student. I remember asking coach Moore, “What is our summer workout program going to be like?” With me being a big guy, I was worried about it. The first thing he ever said to me was, “First, you’re going to lose 30 pounds.” I took his advice, and it paid off. He’s like a second dad to me, as well.
Lyon: Just the depth of knowledge that he has for the game. He can break it down in a way that is understandable for a kid who is 16 or 17 years old. He is one of the best motivators that I have ever been around. That has been consistent.
Moore: Knowing coach as a player and then as a coach, I feel like I know him a little different than those who have just coached for him. I can go up to him and say “Hey, coach, I know what it’s like to be a player. Let’s back off here or let’s push the throttle.” I feel like I can say those things without upsetting him. He relates to that. He has done a great job adapting to the kids and how society has changed. He has softened up a bit. Once that whistles blows, it’s the same old coach Moore.
DJ: Yes, I don’t see Titus McCoy’s end-zone dances flying in 2000.
Moore: No, those wouldn’t fly. I remember in 2000, people got upset when Jonny Zwitt scored and they played Johnny B. Goode on the speakers. Things are a little more flashy. Guys can wear different gloves and shoes. We all had the same color shoes. No black socks. Little things like that. You’ve got to adjust to that.
Dietel: One of the things I see more clearly now is just how much coach cares for his players. As a player, you miss a down block, and he gets into you. Or, you’re running all these 300s in the summer. You’re thinking, “Man, this guy is terrible. Why is he making us do all this?” Coming through on the other end, you see that it is such a setup for life. You put in all this work and it does lead to success. His mantra is: Hard work times dedication equals success; and that truly applies to life.
DJ: (Tonight), you’ll each have an opportunity to talk to your team. Give us your one-minute locker room speech. What are you going to tell them?
Lyon: Just go out and have a great time, have fun, play for your brothers and give perfect effort.
Moore: With the offensive line, we talk about finishing every play, every block. Now it comes down to finishing the season and doing it right. Don’t just be happy to be here.
Dietel: For the linebackers, every Thursday I tell a history story. I think I will skip that this week. I just want them to go out and have fun and soak up everything. There’s no pressure. Just enjoy the moment.
Moore: We’ve had our chance. We’ve played in the game. We enjoyed the heck out of it. We hope they get the same. It’s the biggest prize you can get.
DJ: Is coach going to replay the 2000 Penn game for the team?
Moore: We broke that down the first thing. We were in here eating lunch (the Sunday after the Avon game). We turned it on. We were evaluating the film. I didn’t play very well. Kevin weighed about 140 pounds at tight end.
Lyon: I should have blocked a punt. Coach is still yelling at me.
Moore: Yeah, Nick should have laid out on that. Probably would have turned it around. We turned that off real quick.
Name: Andy Moore
Center Grove class: 2001
College: University of Indianapolis
Position coach: Offensive line
Day job: Physical education teacher at Martinsville West Middle School
Name: Nick Lyon
Center Grove Class: 2002
College: Indiana University
Position coach: Defensive line
Day job: Math teacher at Center Grove High School
Name: Keith Dietel
Center Grove class: 2003
College: University of Indianapolis
Day job: Tax accountant