For the past two years, Center Grove’s current football players have been able to hold their own in practice against the best competition the state has had to offer.
Starting Friday, they’ll need to show that they can do the same in a real game.
With all but three offensive and defensive starters having graduated after making consecutive trips to the Class 6A championship game, the Trojans will be putting a lot of new faces on the field in 2017.
Expectations from outside will understandably be tempered; a team can’t be expected to lose 19 starters, including a Gatorade Player of the Year in Russ Yeast, and rumble on without skipping a beat. But head coach Eric Moore isn’t lowering his standards.
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“The objectives and the goals for the season are always the same,” he said. “Once you set the bar, it doesn’t change. When you get to the state championship four times, each class, you hope that’s what their dream and the expectations are — but in reality, it’s hard to do.
“You definitely put it out there on the table every year for every team, that hey, you have the ultimate goal to get after — and it’s been done before, so it’s not impossible.”
The players stepping into larger roles this season say that being able to go against their older teammates in practice the last two years has helped prepare them for the real thing.
“The only thing that’s done is made us better,” senior defensive lineman Austin Daming said.
Senior defensive back Tyler Watson, one of the three returning starters on the team, said he learned from playing alongside last year’s seniors, and he’s been trying to impart the wisdom he gathered upon the next generation of Trojans.
“The mindset is just that we’ve got to get these guys to understand the kind of speed and intensity that Friday nights really bring,” Watson said.
That sort of intensity is difficult to replicate on the practice field, especially since the front half of Center Grove’s regular-season schedule is riddled with landmines. Friday’s opener is a trip to Warren Central, which beat the Trojans in Week 1 last year, and September opens with consecutive games against MIC rivals Carmel — last year’s 6A state champion — and Ben Davis.
All of those teams will likely be considered favorites against the Trojans early in the season. That’s not a position Moore is used to being in, but he and his team might actually be enjoying it.
“I personally love being overlooked,” Watson said. “You don’t have everyone looking at you, and you can just do your thing and get to it.”
“We sort of call it lying in the weeds and waiting on people,” Moore added. “We’re going to have to sneak up on some people. We’re going to have to hopefully get better as the season goes — that’s the whole goal anyway — and then be there in the end.”
The end has always been of greater importance to the Trojans. There won’t be widespread panic, at least inside the program, if this team loses a couple of games early on. When your new starting quarterback has thrown just one career pass and you’re also replacing your entire offensive line and your defensive front seven, there has to be some sort of a grace period.
Luckily, the schedule has a nine-week grace period built in.
“It’s going to take a few Friday nights to figure it out, and that’s the fun thing about high school football,” Moore said. “And that’s the fun thing about the tournament series in the IHSAA — it’s not important until Week 10. That’s the big thing — have we developed into a championship-caliber team by Week 10?”
Based on recent history, it might be unwise to bet too heavily on “no.”
Greenwood’s 2017 football schedule (all games start at 7 p.m.):
Aug. 18;at Warren Central
Sept. 1;at Carmel
Sept. 8;Ben Davis
Sept. 15;at North Central
Sept. 22;at Lawrence Central
Oct. 6;Lawrence North
Oct. 13;at Cathedral
Center Grove Trojans
Coach: Eric Moore (19th year)
Last year: 12-2, lost to Carmel 16-13 (OT) in Class 6A state final
Projected starters: Jackson Moore, junior QB; Cam Petty, junior FB; Gavin Matheson, junior HB; Alonzo Johnson Jr., senior WB; Sam Hohlt, junior WB; P.J. Buck, junior SE/P; Cory Heinrichs, senior TE; A.J. Snow, senior OT; A.J. Weise, junior OG; Justin Tolle, senior C; Gunner Lepper, senior OG; Skyler Spetter, senior OT; Austin Daming, senior DE; Cole Williams, senior DE; Lucas Hunter, junior DT; Brad Boswell, senior DT; A.J. Gin, senior LB; Jonah Hays, senior LB; Tommy Robinson, junior LB; Tyler Watson, senior CB; Brett Boswell, senior CB; Keegan Gephart, senior S; Matt Pence, junior S; Luke Eckert, junior K
Others to watch: Jacob Keith, junior SE; Riley Roberts, senior SE; Carson Steele, freshman FB; Brian Gaffney, junior DL/LS
Outlook: Russ Yeast isn’t walking through that door. Titus McCoy isn’t walking through that door. Bailey Bennett isn’t walking through that door. But even with 19 of last year’s starters gone, the Trojans are keeping expectations high — and for good reason. A daunting early schedule might result in some blemishes on the regular-season record, but a Center Grove program that has made six consecutive semistate appearances is more concerned with October and November. Even if the end result isn’t a third straight trip to Lucas Oil Stadium, the Trojans always seem to have it together by the time the postseason rolls around. They probably will again.
Moore says: “You simplify things down; everything gets curtailed. Game plans, the offensive and defensive playbooks. But what you don’t curtail on is effort, enthusiasm and speed.”
1. Traditional rivalries aside, who are you most looking forward to playing and why?:
(Warren Central) Week 1. That’s a good test for us right out of the gate to see where we’re at, and it sets the tone for the whole season.
2. If football didn’t exist, how would you keep yourself busy in the fall?
Man, I don’t even know; that’s a hard one. Is there any other sports that go on in the fall? Play some soccer, maybe? Closest thing to it.
3. If you could trade bodies with one of your teammates, who would it be and why?
I’d probably say Trey Vaughns, big defensive end. He’s about 6-5, 220, got great DNA, great body type.
4. Name something fans will see from this team that they’re not expecting.
Our offense, actually. … Losing a bunch of D-I athletes, we’ve got guys coming up to the job, so it’ll be fun to see.