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Friends but still rivals

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Center Grove head football coach Eric Moore directs practice on Monday at Center Grove High School. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Center Grove head football coach Eric Moore directs practice on Monday at Center Grove High School. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

A less confident football coach might be put off by one of his protégés going 2-0 against him in games played deep into November the past two seasons.

Eric Moore isn’t that person.

The 16th-year Center Grove coach takes great pride in everything Jayson West has accomplished in a relatively short period of time — two state championships in only six seasons as a head coach — even though some of it has been at his program’s expense.

West, who is starting his second season at Warren Central after leading the Warriors to Indiana’s first Class 6A title in 2013, will stand across the sideline from his former boss this evening as his second-ranked club plays at No. 4 Center Grove.


Their pregame meeting near midfield will include, as always, a handshake, hug and probably a few yarns spun.

“It’s like having one of the best mentors,” said West, 42, who served as Center Grove’s junior varsity football coach during Moore’s first season (1999) while also coaching wrestling and assisting Moore with boys track and field in the spring.

“I was lucky enough to be with coach Moore in his first year and do my student teaching at Franklin Central,” West said. “Those experiences really set me off in a very positive direction.”

The two have maintained a close friendship over the years even though West left Center Grove following the 1999-2000 school year to coach high school football in Florida before eventually returning home (he’s a 1990 Triton Central graduate).

With Moore’s encouragement, West became an assistant coach at Lawrence Central before becoming the Bears’ head coach in 2008. In five seasons Lawrence Central won 80 percent of its games (52-13), capped off by a perfect 15-0 record and Class 5A state championship in 2012.

Along the way, Lawrence Central won a 28-15 semistate clash at Center Grove, the first meeting between teacher and student.

Moore exacted a measure of revenge last August with a 21-10 victory at Warren Central in the season-opener. The Warriors got the last laugh, however, edging the Trojans 12-7 at semistate on the same all-weather surface Center Grove players had celebrated on three months earlier.

“Jayson’s team last year was the most improved team from the first to the last week of the season that I’ve seen in a long time,” Moore said. “It was because the players bought into him and appreciated what he brought to them. Jayson is an excellent communicator. He’s able to relate to every specific kid in his program whether they’re rich, poor, bad life, good life.

“He has the uncanny ability to get those kids to play for him. The biggest part of coaching is no matter what their role in society is, will they play for you?”

West’s do. As do Moore’s. Proof is in their career won-loss records — 63-15 (.808) for West and 187-56 (.770) for Moore.

“I’m very proud of him. It’s an extension of what we’ve done here and ... I like successful coaches. It’s Friday night, we battle against each other. I want to win, I want him to lose. But when the game is over I want him to win every game,” Moore said. “It hasn’t strained our relationship. I do think it’s my turn to win.”

Moore is kidding. Kind of.

No matter how tonight’s opener plays out, one coach leaves the field content, the other disappointed.

“When you lose to coach Moore you’re OK because it’s a class program,” West said. “But he also knows we do it the right way, too. It’s sweet and bittersweet all in one.”

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