By Mark Ambrogi
The Center Grove High School football team entered the season with great expectations.
The Trojans met them all. Center Grove, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A all year, completed its perfect 14-0 season by beating Westfield 38-14 Nov. 27 in the Class 6A state title game at Lucas Oil Stadium. For his job leading the way, Center Grove coach Eric Moore was named the 2020 Center Grove ICON of the Year.
“The credit goes to parents, players and coaches for staying with us and staying safe,” he said. “The parents did everything they could to make sure the kids stay healthy and out of harm’s way during all this coronavirus stuff.”
The Trojans started the season No. 1 with several returnees after reaching the state championship game before falling to Carmel.
“We had a great second half (in 2019) and we wanted to continue off that,” Moore said. “We played our way in. We really grew from that. That was our confidence builder. Our theme was start to finish and over the course of the pandemic, that gave us something to shoot for and rally around. We knew we were good enough from week one. It was just, keep the ball rolling in the right direction.”
SUCCESS DESPITE A PANDEMIC
At first, Moore said he was just glad his team could play amid the pandemic.
“Then at 4-0, you wanted to get an undefeated season because if we didn’t have a site tournament at least you could have an undefeated season,” he said. “When the tournament got here, it was on; let’s win it all.”
Moore said his 2000 team set the foundation; it went to state for the first time in school history. “Even though it lost, it showed we can do what we need to do to get there,” Moore said. This was the Trojans’ third state title, previously winning in 2008 and 2015. Center Grove, which also was runner-up in 2016, was unbeaten in 2015.
“I think the 2020 team was more talented as far as athletic ability is concerned,” Moore said. “There will be more scholarship kids from the 2020 team than there were on the 2105 team.”
Moore said he’s proud of being in the same spot for the past 22 years. “I feel like I’ve been extremely loyal to Center Grove and the community,” he said. “I have coaches who have been with us 13, 15, 18, 20 years. People always call and ask, ‘how do you do it?’” That’s how you do it. You run a good program that’s fair and fun and excels and guys want to be part of it. When I came here, I didn’t worry about the next job, I worried about making this job the best I could.”
A ROLE MODEL
Center Grove Athletic Director Jon Zwitt has witnessed the high school program develop into a perennial power under Moore. “Not only has he been a quality mentor for a number of assistants over the years, not only has he been an admirable leader that helped put CG football on the map, Eric has been a role model to hundreds of young men in two-plus decades as the Trojan head coach,” Zwitt said. “He will always be a Hall of Famer in my mind in every sense of the words.
That leadership was displayed this year. “During this bizarre year of 2020, despite the typical camaraderie, despite the lack of spring/summer training and despite the absence of passionate fans that would have been out in droves, Eric led the team to an undefeated season,” Zwitt said. “For most of the run, they were a well-oiled machine. The team averaged 42 points a game, while allowing just 7.6. Constantly looking over his shoulder, not at opponents, but for someone to quarantine a potential starter, it was uneasy from Day One. But Eric, the staff and the players weathered adversity on and off the field and were a fun team to watch. The team displayed a skill set that qualified them as one of the best. Eric can hold his head held high knowing he was an integral part of that development.”
Trojans senior running back Carson Steele marvels at Moore’s dedication. “He loves the kids more than he loves the game; that’s a special thing about him,” Steele said. “He’ll spend 100 hours in a week getting everything ready for a high school football game. He’s a great coach. He’s had options to go to bigger schools, but he’s stayed at Center Grove because he loves the kids and loves what he does.”
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH ERIC MOORE
What is your idea of a relaxing evening?
“In season watching any racing IndyCar or NASCAR with my son Jackson. Or watching a TV or movie with my daughters. But I would rather just sit around and talk with them about what’s going on with them. In the off-season, same as above, plus I do like to read about antiques or watch shows like Pawn Stars or American Pickers. I also like to watch shows about rebuilding cars: Texas Metal, Counting Cars, etc.”
What is your favorite genre of book or movie?
“I like books about World War II or the Vietnam War. I also like movies about (those wars). I also like sports-based movies. My favorite lucky charm is if we are playing in the state finals, I like to watch the movie Polar Express with my daughters. It brings me luck.”
Who were your favorite players or coach?
“Favorite player growing up: I loved to read anything about Nile Kinnick (Heisman Trophy winner from Iowa). Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus. I really loved to watch Tom Landry of Dallas Cowboys. Landry coached with true class. My favorite coach I looked up to was my brother-in-law Erv Bultman who coached (as a basketball assistant) at University High School (in Bloomington, Ind.) and Bloomington North.”
Who would you most like to meet?
“Obviously, who wouldn’t want to talk with Jesus Christ? A sports person, Paul Brown or Vince Lombardi or Roger Penske. My love of racing started in the early ‘70s when my uncle took me to IMS. Then as I got older and could go with friends it was every weekend in May going to Indy for qualifications and Indy 500, the single most powerful, emotional, passionate sporting event ever. I followed Indy through college and when I moved to Florida I was introduced to NASCAR, maybe the most iconic American sport. I love the sound and the colors, and I love the true American athletes who drive the iron horses. I love the passion of NASCAR and how important every race is to the team. It’s a great team sport as is IndyCar racing.”
What would you do with lottery winnings?
“If I won the lottery and it was huge: I would, No. 1, buy homes for my entire family. No. 2., buy homes in different parts of the country to stay in and visit. No. 3, buy a NASCAR race team.”