As someone who implements an offense that emphasizes running the football, Eric Moore isn’t known for going deep.
Not so the case when the topic swings to able bodies. It’s here Center Grove’s head football coach since 1999 has been able to journey deeper than most, his Options B and C in many cases barely a step down from Option A.
The injury bug bit Moore’s program hard this season, with many of the Trojans’ Week 1 starters forced to sit out no less than one game.
Yet here they are, 11-1, ranked sixth in Class 5A and two victories from Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the state championship game the night of Nov. 24.
They host No. 3 Castle (12-0) in today’s 8 p.m. regional title game.
“There have been key games like the Ben Davis and North Central games where we’ve used almost 40 kids,” Moore said. “With injuries and kids subbing in for other kids, we’ve probably had 20 different starters on defense this season, and 18 on offense.
“This year the big difference is the depth has had to play, and the depth is talented enough to play.”
Injuries have been most noticeable in the offensive backfield. Fortunately for the Trojans, it’s here they are deepest.
Center Grove lost speedy sophomore halfback Max Norris for the year in a Week 3 loss to Carmel. Fullback Lane Morris was next, missing games before returning for last week’s sectional final against Columbus North.
Moore lost halfback Logan Hutson to injury in the first-round sectional win against Martinsville, his absence meaning additional carries for senior Conner Stapleton and junior Alex Lucas.
The Trojans subscribe to the “next guy up” theory, as is the case with the majority of football programs at all levels. It’s a point driven home by Center Grove coaches during practices, games and offseason conditioning.
“We pride ourselves on no one player being more important than the other guy,” said Moore.
Achieving the kind of depth Center Grove fields annually didn’t happen overnight. The coach estimates he had 85 varsity players his first season, then remembers the 2000 team photograph including about 60 players.
“I thought I had killed the program,” said Moore, laughing. “But from that point on...”
Making it to the Class 5A title game at the RCA Dome in 2000 helped pave the way to greater interest. Elementary and middle school football players liked the product, were inspired by the fact it was successful and couldn’t wait to put on the Center Grove uniform.
“I’ve been here ever since kindergarten and grew up going to football games. It feels great to be able to carry on that tradition,” senior offensive lineman Nathan Krohne said. “I remember being in third grade and looking forward to going to Power Club and watching the varsity players.”
Senior defensive back Mario Swann has a similar memory.
“I moved here from Detroit before first grade and always looked forward to going to the games on Friday,” Swann said. “I would sit in the end zone seats with my friends.”
That tradition has carried on, positive initial impressions translating to the brand of depth the Trojans field today.
“It just seems like we always have someone able to step up in that position. I feel we can put a lot of people on the field if we have to. It’s good to know that if something happens to one guy that there’s always others who can step up,” Krohne said. “With our running backs, you can put anybody back there and they do the job.
“We try to rotate and put ourselves in situations that could happen in a game,” he said. “If a person gets hurt who was replacing a starter, then I might get worried. That hasn’t happened too often.”