Hours before Center Grove’s football team takes the field, a group of die-hard Trojan fans gather in the parking lot.
Senior Mason Brauchla chugs a half-gallon of chocolate milk just before fellow senior Brian Hamilton breaks a sheet of plywood in half with one punch. Others adjust their wigs and put the finishing touches on their red and black clothing ensembles.
None of them plays on the football team. But as seniors in the student cheer block, they have a responsibility to fire up their classmates tailgating outside the stadium and during the game in the bleachers, they said.
To the unknowing, the milk-chugging-plywood-punching-rowdy-crowd antics look like nonsense. But if you ask fellow Center Grove senior Brian Gudeman, he believes the festivities create energy in the student section that contributes to 10 Trojan points on the field every week.
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The ruckus used to take place in the bleachers only. Then came a complaint when students started throwing full-size cakes at each other (all in good fun), so school leaders asked them to take their routines elsewhere.
Tailgates start two hours before the game. The side effects of being a superfan linger well into Saturday as they recover from headaches and hoarse voices.
“We have a great squad, and we need to bring energy all season to give these guys the extra juice they need to get pumped and propel themselves to a state title,” senior Willy Boston said.
This season, the group of seniors planned themes for every game, home or away. Cowboys and Indians, 80s night, beach attire, whiteout and neon color schemes and a patriotic U.S.A. night were some of the highlights of the season.
No theme was as fun as U.S.A. night, senior Eli Baker said.
Boston runs the student section Twitter account where the themes are announced and plans are laid out for what time to arrive. Not all themes were approved by administration and not every game has gone smoothly.
A few times this season, the seniors calling the shots had to scale back the enthusiasm. Baker has been asked to leave a game for being a bit too intense, a cake thrown into the student section has resulted in some minor disciplinary action and crowd push ups have been banned from games.
Crowd push ups are a tradition where students crowd surf one of the seniors into the air while counting to the number of points Center Grove has after every score.
Despite the ban on pushups, seniors still try to do them for the sake of tradition, even if it means students are asked to leave, Boston said.
During the game against North Central at Lucas Oil Stadium earlier this season, senior Brian Wheeler volunteered to have a pizza thrown at him during halftime to boost morale.
The concept of having a pizza thrown on someone is silly, but it needed to be done to rejuvenate the crowd and get people pumped, Wheeler said. Wheeler paid for the pizza himself.
And when the crowd makes noise, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Junior running back Titus McCoy, who created the student section Twitter account during basketball season last year, gave Boston the account for football this year. The players said they can hear the student section on big plays, Boston said.
“Specifically during the Carmel game,” Boston said.
“The players said they could hear the student section when they had to come up with a big stop late in the game.”
Senior leaders in the student section are expecting a larger than normal crowd this weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Boston, Gudeman and their fellow senior classmates plan on starting their tailgate near Lucas Oil Stadium as early as noon, Gudeman said.
The theme for Saturday will be a red-out. And if you plan to attend the student tailgate, you can almost bet on seeing Hamilton run his fist through a sheet of plywood, continuing his pregame ritual. It would be bad luck if Hamilton didn’t punch plywood, Baker said.
“It’s going to be absolutely crazy. The intensity will be insane,” Baker said. “I can’t even fathom what the energy is going to be like at Lucas Oil Stadium. We are going to show Penn true fear.”