Though the Class 6A state champion Trojans will no doubt miss its departing seniors, a nucleus of seasoned underclassmen ready to keep the tradition of winning going will remain.
“We lose some important people like Jovan (Swann) and (Cameron) Tidd, but I think the rest of the juniors who didn’t get a chance to play much this season are ready to step up to the challenge and do what we did this year,” junior outside linebacker Bailey Bennett said.
“I think coach (Eric) Moore plays a pretty big role in that. From the time we’re young kids we learn the Wing-T offense and just everything about it. Everything we do is for him, and it works out so well.”
Bennett is only one of the defensive starters who will return.
Others are defensive end Dan Root, middle linebacker Nick Arbuckle and free safety Logan Bontrager, while end Zach Wells and linebacker Sam Bolin gained invaluable varsity experience as frequently used backups.
Bolin actually started in place of the injured Jackson Sodrel for the first four postseason games — wins against Columbus North, Jeffersonville, Warren Central and Avon — before Sodrel returned to the lineup for Saturday’s title game victory against Penn.
Plenty of familiar faces will return on offense, as well.
Just as the defensive line was considered the strength of the Center Grove team entering this season, it’s the offensive line that could well earn that distinction leading into 2016.
Left tackle Clay Hadley and left guard Nick Davis will be back for their third season as starters. Center Bailey Smith is a junior, as is right tackle Ethan Hart. Tight end Cory Heinrichs picked up a state championship ring as a sophomore starter.
Running through the holes opened by this unit will be none other than Titus McCoy, who finished his sensational junior season with three touchdowns and 193 yards rushing. Both totals were state finals records for Class 6A.
McCoy finished this season with 1,918 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns.
“We have a pretty strong weightlifting program with coach Mills,” said Davis, alluding to Center Grove strength coach Marty Mills. “It’s always the next guy up, and everyone’s been learning the same stuff since they were a little kid. It just fills in every year. And of course we had a great senior class to follow this year.
“You learn a lot in big games like this, and I think that’s how we’re going to stay consistent next year. I do think our offensive line will be a huge strength next year along with our running backs, too, and that our D-line will step up like it always does.”
McCoy will be joined in the backfield by Triston Clark and Trevor Hohlt, the latter missing most of the postseason due to a season-ending knee injury.
At Center Grove, like with all successful football programs, seniors establish the tone. Suffice it to say, this season’s class proved to be an unbeatable — literally — template for success.
“They’ve been the best seniors. Following Jovan, he’s really motivated me and he’s always giving 100 percent. To me it’s like I’m following him and I’ve got to show what he has taught me. I have to give that effort that he would want me to give out on the field,” Wells said.
“I do like the pressure because it makes me play on a level that requires me to be at the best of my abilities. I want it to be like they (seniors) never left.”
RB: Titus McCoy, Junior
RB: Triston Clark, Junior
RB: Trevor Hohlt, Junior
LT: Clay Hadley, Junior
LG: Nick Davis, Junior
C: Bailey Smith, Junior
RT: Ethan Hart, Junior
TE: Cory Heinrichs, Sophomore
DE: Dan Root, Junior
DE: Zach Wells, Junior
OLB: Sam Bolin, Junior
MLB: Nick Arbuckle, Junior
FS: Logan Bontrager, Junior