Needing a single yard to maintain possession of the football, Center Grove’s offense brings in some insurance.
Running onto the field are two of the Trojans’ defensive starters, senior end Austin Daming and junior tackle Lucas Hunter, and backup nose guard Ben Smith.
Daming, the team’s leading tackler this season with 87, might be carrying the ball on the upcoming play. More than likely, though, his 215 pounds will be used to clear a running lane for one of his teammates.
Hunter and Smith line up on the offensive line.
Story continues below gallery
Football teams using defensive players on offense in short-yardage situations isn’t a new idea. The 1985 Chicago Bears made 350-pound defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry a household name by slamming him into the center of a defensive line as a lead blocker for Matt Suhey or the legendary Walter Payton. On occasion, Perry carried the ball himself.
It’s a philosophy that has evolved over time. No longer is bigger always considered better.
“Some teams use the heaviest guys. We use big guys who are athletic and strong,” Moore said. “I can’t lie. It scares me a little bit because the defensive kids don’t get to practice with the offense much, but they like coming in for those plays because they’re fun.”
Short-yardage offenses vary in name. Center Grove’s is Jumbo, Greenwood’s is Tight, Indian Creek’s is Rhino and 2016 state champion Roncalli incorporates what’s called Heavy.
Former Trojans who have been a part of the Jumbo package include Joel Hale, Bryce Krebs, Joel Cox, Jovan Swann, Cameron Tidd, Conner Steeb, Dan Root and Bailey Bennett.
Bennett, now a freshman linebacker at Marian, flourished in the role and scored three rushing touchdowns for the 2016 state runner-up squad.
Daming is helping carry on that tradition. He has two carries this season, his first since he played running back for the Center Grove freshman team in 2014. Though he’s gained just four yards and hasn’t scored, he loves doing whatever he can to help the offense.
“It’s so fun. We can’t wait for them to call it,” Daming said. “The defensive guys take a lot of pride in it because it’s not something we get to do often.”
Moore estimates the Trojans run Jumbo anywhere from five to 10 times a game. Practice time is minimal, Daming said; maybe twice a week at the end of a practice.
Greenwood coach Mike Campbell introduced Tight — two tight ends on the field at the same time — in 2004 when he was the offensive coordinator for the Woodmen. This season, senior linebacker Tim Johns lines up in it as the second tight end opposite Conner Battinau.
The extra muscle includes 245-pound fullback Anthony Williams, who scored three touchdowns against Whiteland and was the go-to guy all over the field that night when the Woodmen just needed a yard or two.
“We’ll use it in a lot of short-yardage situations,” Campbell said. “We went to it against Franklin for most of the fourth quarter trying to put stress on their defensive line.”
Packages such as Jumbo and Tight are no longer solely used near the goal line. Coaches are using big bodies when facing third-and-1 from their own 29 just as they would on fourth-and-goal from the opponent’s 2.
The majority of such offenses used by local high school teams emphasize the run.
“It’s a mentality play for us,” Indian Creek coach Brett Cooper said. “If we don’t get a yard, then we don’t deserve a yard, because we have our biggest guys out there.”
The Rhino formation calls for two tight ends with a straight-T backfield of quarterback Taylor Voris, left fullback Mason Hawkins, right fullback Austin Worth and either Avery Welch or Michael Perkins carrying the football.
Voris is directly behind center instead of his usual spot in the shotgun formation. Sophomore defensive lineman Cameron Elmore’s 6-2, 260-pound frame comes in handy either as an offensive lineman or as one of the fullbacks.
Cooper learned the Rhino formation three years ago working as an assistant for Cincinnati LaSalle coach Nate Moore. The two used it the last two seasons at Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio.
“I would get nervous using defensive players if we just ran out there and did it, but we practice it,” Cooper said. “The sideline gets excited with the mentality. We like the physicality of it, and that package is the essence of running the football right at you.”
The Heavy put in place by Rebels coach Scott Marsh includes three backs and two tight ends.
In 2015, two of the most important plays in Center Grove’s 62-year gridiron history happened in Jumbo. Titus McCoy’s run on fourth-and-2 late in regulation moved the chains and set up a game-tying field goal against Avon in a semistate matchup.
McCoy’s game-deciding two-point conversion in the second overtime of that game gave the Trojans a 35-34 victory. Running left, McCoy followed the blocks of Swann and Tidd, defensive linemen who currently play as redshirt freshmen at Stanford and Vanderbilt, respectively.
Greenwood’s Johns wouldn’t object to being in such a position one day. He has yet to catch a pass this season, but he was targeted once in last week’s win over Whiteland. Johns was credited with one reception as a junior, a 15-yarder in a loss to Plainfield.
“I actually really like offense,” Johns said. “Me playing tight end and also linebacker, I think it gives me an edge. I know what the linebacker is going to do, and that makes it easier for me to block.
“Playing offense too gets tiring at times, but you have to look at the bigger picture.”
The big picture is doing whatever is necessary to win. If that means bringing in defensive players to play offense, coaches won’t hesitate to do so.
Jumbo, Tight, Rhino and Heavy are proof.