No one is going to dab their eyes if Eric Moore mentions that his 16th Center Grove football team is young and a bit undersized.
Comments about how difficult the Trojans’ first four regular-season games might be met with a wave of the hand, roll of the eyes or both. Likewise dialogue centered around whether Center Grove has the athletes necessary to hold its own in the state’s premier conference.
The only thing attracting less sympathy than a 73 percent success rate like the one Moore (138-50) has is winning 81 percent (21-5) of the program’s postseason matchups dating back to its Class 5A state championship season of 2008.
Three straight semistate losses have made the Trojans hungry. However, Moore claims this group remains in search of an identity after graduating so many two- and three-year starters from last year’s 11-2 finisher and co-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference champion (with Ben Davis).
The Trojans offense might find itself hard-pressed to average 38 points a game the way it did in 2013, though key components do return.
Senior back Max Norris is a first down (or more) waiting to happen after producing 11.9 yards a carry en route to 1,259 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.
Plagued by nagging injuries throughout his career, Norris is part of an experienced group of ball carriers that includes senior Calvin Daggett, junior Lee Clinker and sophomore fullback Titus McCoy.
Doing some running of his own will be junior quarterback Joey Siderewicz, whose evasiveness and ability to improvise in the pocket contradicts the departed Luke Calvert, a right-hander who was more of a classic drop-back passer.
Siderewicz is the son of Center Grove receivers/QBs coach Joe Siderewicz and the grandson of former Martinsville coach Bill Siderewicz, whose 269 career victories rank him 15th all-time among high school football coaches in Indiana.
“Joey Siderewicz provides us with a kid who is a gym rat at quarterback, and that’s what you love. He’s been around the game his whole life. His grandfather’s got a (football) field named after him,” Moore said.
“People say he’ll be challenged because of his size. I tell people that Drew Brees and Johnny Manziel have been small their whole lives, so they know how to deal with it. Joey knows how to deal with it. He’s a very accurate passer. Great foot speed. He’s the fastest quarterback I’ve had since Jordan Luallen was here, so that adds one more thing to your offense.
“He’s just a junior and doesn’t have a lot of (varsity) experience. But I’ll trade that in for speed.”
Back to anchor the offensive line is Austin Smogor, the Trojans’ 6-3, 285-pound senior center. Senior guards Will Hacker, Ryan Walker and senior tackle Jacob Shiley will help their classmate supply instruction and leadership as others figuring into the blocking mix are underclassmen — junior John Richardson and 10th-graders Nick Davis, Ethan Hart and Clay Hadley.
“The offensive line is both new and old. Our mainstay is Austin, who is very physical. I like my offensive line’s athletic ability and their speed and strength,” Moore said.
Senior split-end Devon Hensley is back to give his new QB a trusted target. Center Grove’s tight end combination is junior Corbin Smith and 6-2, 220-pound freshman Cory Heinrich, while senior receiver Matt Combs is also the Trojans’ long-snapper.
Center Grove’s offensive backfield depth enabled Moore and his assistant coaches to move former ball carriers Jackson Hohlt, a 5-11, 170-pound junior, and 5-9, 185-pound junior Connor Steeb, to the defensive secondary where they are expected to increase the Trojans’ physicality.
Another junior, 6-3, 250-pound Cameron Tidd, will play on the defensive line this season after playing tight end last fall.
The linebacking unit, led by 5-10, 200-pound senior Keith Sears, is, at this time, regarded as the strength of the defense. Alongside Sears will be senior Adam Lutring, junior Jackson Sodrel and sophomore Bailey Bennett.
“I think Jackson Sodrel has had the best preseason of any linebacker or maybe anyone in our whole program. I’m real excited about him. Lutring has a lot of reps as a player and is a really good linebacker,” Moore said.
“Keith Sears is probably the alpha dog. He’s got great speed and he’s been on the field since he was a sophomore. Always does his job, and he never tends to have a bad game.”
Making up the defensive front are seniors Gavin Everett and Max Glogoza, Tidd and juniors Javon Swann and Devon Wilson. Competing to start in the secondary are seniors Cole Fresher and Josh Hart, juniors Blake Moran, Hohlt, Steeb and Tyler Pence, and sophomore Zach Hart.
Moore has yet to specify who will kick and who punts, though juniors Nate Snyder and Drew Conrad are capable options.
This senior class of Trojans players isn’t being heralded the way some of the previous groups were. All that changes if Center Grove goes on to qualify for what would be the program’s third state championship game appearance.
“It’s a struggle right now because what happens is that success will breed failure. That’s just how great the last three (senior) classes were that some of them didn’t get on the field, as well, yet they knew when those guys graduated, ‘I have to take their spot,’” Moore said.
“This year the sophomore class is pushing a little more than the sophomore classes have pushed since maybe 2006, and it’s showing some effects. For whatever reason, the younger kids seem to believe in me and what I’m about and what we’ve done. The older kids have seen it happen so much that they think (success) just happens. It doesn’t just happen.
“With that said, I do think if we can stay healthy that at the end of the year we can be a good, strong football team. Everybody has got to buy into being humble and doing what they can to help the team win.”