Greenwood Community High School football player Thomas Bowling has been playing his sport’s most underappreciated position for a decade.
Center Grove senior Bailey Smith can make the same claim.
To be a center is to be generally ignored — unless you’re jumping offsides, committing a holding penalty or flubbing a blocking assignment that gets a teammate tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
But try running an offense without one.
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Centers, sometimes referred to by the football novice as hikers or snappers, do much more than aspire for a clean exchange between himself and the quarterback.
Like the linemen positioned in three-point stances to both his left and right, the center is counted on to carry out his blocking assignment. This same person is called upon to snap the football for punt, field goal and point-after attempts.
“The center is usually the quarterback of your offensive line,” Indian Creek coach Mike Gillin said.
Bowling, a 5-foot-11, 240-pound senior in his third season as the Woodmen’s starting center, likes the fact that so much hinges on his every move.
“It’s just knowing if I screw up, the play screws up,” he said. “I kind of like that. It’s an adrenaline rush. The split second after the snap is the most important part of the job.
“If I step the wrong way, somebody else could step the wrong way.”
Now the 6-2, 270-pound anchor to everything the Trojans attempt to accomplish offensively, Smith lined up at center, guard and tackle during various points of his time playing in the Center Grove Bantam League from grades 1 through 6.
By the time he was competing at the middle-school level, Smith was exclusively a center — and he has been ever since.
“Honestly, I’m not sure what drew me in to play center,” Smith said. “Ever since the third grade I’ve wanted to play center.
“You need to have a good relationship with your quarterback. Getting his cadence down so you don’t screw anything up, it’s a challenge.”
Smith has had to adjust to the cadence, or tempo, of two different quarterbacks in his time as a Trojans starter.
Last season’s starting QB, Joey Siderewicz, had a faster method of calling the play at the line of scrimmage; Jack Kellams, the current Center Grove quarterback, possesses a stronger (or louder) cadence.
The transition this year wasn’t as difficult as one might think — in large part because Smith worked with Kellams during their freshman and sophomore seasons.
Physical strength is important for a center or anyone else playing in the trenches. Field vision, hand placement and knowing what to do in high-pressure situations are every bit as important, according to Bowling.
Adaptability also is key. With more and more programs implementing a shotgun formation — where the quarterback awaits the snap standing five to seven yards back — a center must be able to excel at both types of snaps.
“It’s not the angle as much as it is that you try to snap the football so the laces will hit the quarterback’s top hand (when under center),” Smith said. “That way, if he goes back to pass, it’s not hard for him to find the laces.”
In Gillin’s Indian Creek offense, it’s senior D.J. Wilhelm who gets the play started by snapping the ball to Braves junior quarterback Taylor Voris.
“He is is a two-year starter at center for us,” Gillin said. “He’s not the biggest guy (5-11, 200), but he does a good job.
“A center has to have good feet and has to be able to move. It’s a tough job.”