Center Grove football did everything it could possibly do last season.
The Trojans by winning all 14 games became the 81st high school football program in Indiana to finish as an undefeated state champion.
Next comes an even greater challenge — attempting to do it again.
With preseason practices scheduled to start Monday throughout the state, the Trojans’ foremost opponent is the complacency that often sets in after achieving the ultimate.
Playing tradition-rich programs such as Warren Central, Carmel and Ben Davis on a yearly basis is difficult enough.
Not giving in to human nature is something entirely different.
“That’s probably been the biggest battle. It’s not relaxing as much as you lose focus. Kids are now focusing on other things. What’s important now is win, not what can I do for myself now,” said 18th-year head coach Eric Moore. “When you have underclassmen that win a championship, the hardest thing in coaching is motivating them to go back and try to do it again.
“Now I do think our kids want to do that. But I can’t read their heart. You know how hard it was. Do you really want to do it again because it’s not fun when you’re trying to do it again.”
The majority of Center Grove’s starting offensive linemen return from the defending Class 6A state champions. A nucleus of talented ball carriers led by senior workhorse Titus McCoy is back, as well.
Still, there are concerns.
Many of the Trojans’ defensive stalwarts graduated.
This opens the door for seniors such as ends Dan Root and Parker Ferguson, linebackers Nick Arbuckle and Bailey Bennett and defensive backs Logan Bontrager and Sam Bolin to finally bask in the spotlight.
Moore, who must break in a new punter and kicker on special teams, has been in this situation once before in his time at Center Grove.
The program’s first state football title occurred in 2008 (Class 5A), which was followed by a semi-state qualifier (the Trojans lost at Warren Central, 28-10).
Arbuckle feels a similar momentum will be present this season starting with the regular-season opener at home against Warren Central on Aug. 19.
“I don’t really think there is a complacency. I think there’s more confidence,” said Arbuckle, who is Center Grove’s top returning tackler after recording 44 a year ago. “It’s just a mentality that we have.
“We know there’s a target on our back. You know that every team is going to try its hardest against you.”
Center Grove averages 9.5 wins per season under Moore, a staggering number considering it plays in the state’s most-difficult conference (Metropolitan Interscholastic). Since Moore took over in 1999, five victories (in his first season and in 2005) is the least amount by any Trojans’ team.
There has been only one losing season.
“I tell our players that we still have the same goals and purpose for this season. Every coach and every team starts out wanting to win all their games and be champions,” Moore said. “Sometimes that’s realistic. Sometimes it isn’t.
“But I think that should always be your goal. I don’t think you’ll ever achieve greatness if you don’t believe that you can make it. If it’s in their heart that they can’t win than they won’t.”
Aug. 19 – Warren Central, 7 p.m.*
Aug. 26 – at Whiteland, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 – Carmel, 7 p.m.*
Sept. 9 – at Ben Davis, 7 p.m.*
Sept. 16 – North Central, 7 p.m.*
Sept. 23 – Lawrence Central, 7 p.m.*
Sept. 30 – at Pike, 7 p.m.*
Oct. 7 – at Lawrence North, 7 p.m.*
Oct. 14 – Cathedral, 7 p.m.