Center Grove Football Team Emerges as State Champs
With the pandemic threatening to derail the high school football season, The 2020 Center Grove Trojans were able to stay the course and finish the season as one of the most heralded Indiana high school football teams ever to play under the Friday night lights. The Trojans made it to the finish line at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend, winning their third state title in school history with a 38-14 victory over Westfield in Class 6A.
“Being a crazy year, the year that it was, the great, special thing about this team has been their ability to focus,” says Head Coach Eric Moore. “They had to let go of all the obstacles, what their daily schedule usually is – couldn’t take a shower at practice, the locker room is divided up, and they’re carrying around water bottles everywhere. They had the ability to stay focused, enjoy what they’re doing, and play with great passion. I’m so proud of how they adapted and overcame everything this season.”
“Honestly with this being a weird season with COVID, it was a relief knowing that we got to play a full season and that we finished what we started,” says senior defensive end Austin Booker. “Our motto was ‘Start 2 Finish’ and we practiced and played with that mindset. This team did something special by going 14-0, winning state, and being ranked nationally.”
“All of us had expected to be in this situation,” says senior wingback Connor Delp. “I was just glad we finally accomplished our goal of winning a state title. It was a special moment.”
The Trojans narrowly missed winning the state title in 2019, losing to Carmel 20-17. Senior linebacker Jackson Schott relished the opportunity to return to the finals to take care of unfinished business.
“It felt really great, especially because last year we were in the same building and it didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” Schott says. “Just getting second in state last year really hurt, so we’ve just been working really hard since then trying to get back. It was a special moment celebrating with all the teammates and especially with my little brother [James Schott].”
Offensive linemen rarely capture the headlines in the newspaper or appear on the highlight reel. However, Center Grove’s offensive line should be recognized for their dominance in controlling the line of scrimmage against the likes of conference powers Warren Central, Ben Davis and Carmel.
“The first thing I did after the clock ran down was hug the other offensive linemen and told them how fortunate I was to have those dudes by my side,” says senior offensive lineman Brayden Sturm. “Those are the guys that I went through every game with side by side. I was just so excited and happy because winning that game is something very few teams get to do. In that moment, I realized how fortunate I was to be there with those guys. Reality hit hard when I put on that blue medal. I was overcome with excitement, happiness and shock. What we had just done, very few teams have been able to do.”
Many Trojan players begin their football careers in the Center Grove Bantam Football League, one of the most elite youth football programs in the Midwest. This is where the Trojans learn to play football the Center Grove way. They are taught the importance of Trojan pride, and how to play hard and physical until the whistle blows.
Former Center Grove Bantam player Brayton Spetter was a senior defensive back for the Trojans this season. Spetter says the journey for a state championship started at a young age.
“I knew we were dreaming of this since we were little kids in Bantam,” he says. “It was a special feeling being on the field, knowing that all my hard work paid off. Hugging all my brothers that I have been playing football with for many years overwhelmed me with happiness.”
From superior football play on the gridiron, to the marching band’s stellar halftime performance, to the cheer squad’s school spirit, to the dance team’s high leg kicks and the choir’s beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, Friday nights at Ray Skillman Stadium during the fall football season are like no other.
“I am extremely fortunate to have played football for Center Grove,” Sturm says. “I would not have had it any other way. Center Grove has an incredible environment with the community being so involved. Playing football on Friday nights in front of the home crowd eight times this season was nothing short of amazing. The atmosphere, and the aura the crowd and the team gave off, was just amazing. The horn was pretty cool too. Not having as many people as usual this season was not ideal, but no matter if there were 7,000 people or 800 people, the energy was the same. I will never forget the home games this season because they were all so special.”
“Playing under the lights at Ray Skillman Stadium, on the same field that the legends that built our program played on, is such a privilege and honor,” says senior kicker Austin Watson. “The tradition that this program has is something you don’t get anywhere else.”
“Football means a lot to Center Grove, and it was an intense, exciting and fun four years playing for this program,” Spetter says. “Friday nights are something I’m going to miss at Center Grove. Running out of the helmet to the atmosphere we have is adrenaline-inducing.”
Before Coach Moore arrived at Center Grove in 1999, the Trojans had only won one sectional and one regional. Under Moore’s 22 years of leadership, the Trojans have amassed three state titles, 3 state runner-up titles, six semi-states, 14 regionals, 15 sectionals, and seven Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference championships. The program’s success starts at the top with Moore setting the tone and vision for the entire program.
“He definitely pushes everybody to work their hardest,” Booker says. “His practices are intense and tough, but make you ready to play physical.”
“Coach Moore has been a special person in my life,” Delp says. “He has been my football coach and track coach for four years. He has been a role model for me and he’s been someone I look up to. He has taught me many life skills as well. He has shown me how to be a leader, and shown me what toughness is.”
“Without Coach Moore, I don’t think I would be the player I am now,” Sturm says. “He instilled in me a lot of different principles and ideas that I will never forget. No matter what we were doing, he expected excellence and wanted us to be the best we could be. I think Coach Moore has impacted every player in a positive way. Without Coach Moore, I do not think I would have played football for as long as I have. I would not have wanted anyone else in the head coach spot. I am very thankful for him and what he has done for us.”
Coach Moore also garners the respect of his peers in the coaching fraternity. Jayson West, former Center Grove assistant coach under Moore, has competed against Moore’s Trojans in the past eight seasons as head coach of Warren Central.
“He has a great way of being a fierce competitor, being really tough on the kids, but really loves the kids with a great balance,” West says. “Kids like discipline. They need discipline. They also need love and support. He supplies both of those. What they have done as a program is unparalleled in Indiana. A lot of people say they want [success], but they actually do the things that it takes and that separates them from other programs.”
Another former Center Grove assistant coach under Moore is Lawrence North Head Coach Patrick Mallory. After 11 seasons as Moore’s assistant, he now calls Moore his best friend. This was his eighth season at Lawrence North and the Wildcats’ best season since 2005. Mallory credits his mentor for his coaching successes.
“I thank the Lord I was put on a path with Coach Eric Moore,” he says. “I got to learn from him and build a loving relationship.”
Mallory says Moore’s program is built on hard work.
“I don’t know if he had the perfect plan, but he’s built the perfect plan over his 22 years as head coach,” he says. “There’s just an expectation now with Trojan football. The more you can believe that expectation of working hard, the more it will take off. He’s building the best product that he can for society, adding great people and hard workers that will build our society for us – and if we win a few games along the way, awesome.”