Center Grove’s football program has a longstanding tradition of hard-hitting safeties, and Keegan Gephart has done nothing to interrupt it.

Emulating the practice habits and overall work ethic of those who played the position before him has served the 6-foot, 185-pound senior well. He’s produced 38 tackles — including 3.5 for loss — in only seven games.

Impressive contributions from someone who entered the season with nine career tackles.

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“We had two pretty good safeties last year in Corbin Laque and Logan Bontrager, but I got into the rotation a little bit,” Gephart said. “I knew that if I kept working hard that I would eventually get out there and play.

“I was pretty confident coming into this season. I’m confident in my abilities.”

Gephart, who carries a 3.4 grade-point average and one day hopes to major in business and finance, is primarily depended on as a run stopper for a Trojans defense allowing 15 points a game.

However, the fearlessness required to play safety also can serve as something of a detriment.

Gephart missed three games (Weeks 5, 6 and 7) with a strained abductor muscle in his right leg after planting his leg too hard during a home loss to top-ranked Ben Davis. The Trojans lost two of the three games Gephart was sidelined, fading in the second half on both occasions.

The senior returned to the field the past three games, and he will start Friday night when Center Grove hosts once-beaten Columbus North in a Class 6A sectional final.

Trojans coach Eric Moore, who said it’s more difficult teaching a defensive back how to be a hitter than it is to excel in one-on-one coverage with an opposing receiver, appreciates Gephart’s aggressiveness.

“Keegan is quite a hitter,” Moore said. “He’s a kid who was an undersized linebacker who was moved to safety. If you catch the ball in front of him, he’ll make that person pay.

“He would rather knock them down than cover them on a pass route. You want guys back there who are physical football players, and he is.”

Gephart attended Beech Grove schools from kindergarten through third grade, then moved to the Center Grove district. His father and mother graduated from Center Grove High School in 1991 and 1995, respectively.

He started this season with a career-high 10 tackles in a loss at Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rival Warren Central. He picked up eight more tackles, along with a sack and his first career interception, in last week’s 35-3 sectional victory at Franklin Central, and also delivered a couple of hard hits while defending passes.

On Friday, he’ll face challenges in attempting to help slow a Bull Dogs offense averaging 379 total yards a game. Expect Gephart to combat those challenges head-on.

“I’ve always been taught that when I do something to give it everything I have,” he said. “I take that same mindset to the football field.”

The Gephart file

THE GEPHART FILE

Name: Keegan Gephart

Age: 18

Born: Indianapolis

Family: Parents Ray and Melanie

Favorite TV show: “Game of Thrones”

Favorite food: Steak

Favorite movie: “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Favorite athlete: Bob Sanders

Favorite team: Indianapolis Colts

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.