By Rick Morwick
Jonah Hays acknowledges the Center Grove High School football team didn’t have the type of regular season players expected.
But all the same, taking a 4-5 record into the postseason isn’t without its advantages. Especially when you’re a traditional Class 6A power that plays one of the state’s toughest schedules.
When that’s the case, looks can be deceiving.
“A lot of teams look at us and think, OK, we’re 4-5 this year, so they’re thinking this is one of the weaker Center Grove teams,” said Hays, a senior outside linebacker. “Obviously, we do have a tough schedule, so I think that’s one thing that might actually be an advantage. Teams we’ve never met think we’re just some team that won’t be too good.
“It’s just an advantage we have with the schedule to prepare us for the playoffs.”
Center Grove, which competes in the elite Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, took full advantage of its scheduling edge in the Oct. 27 sectional opener at Franklin Central.
On paper, the host Flashes were 8-1 and heavy favorites. On the scoreboard, the Trojans dominated 35-3 and proved – despite their record – that they are capable of another lengthy postseason run.
They were state champions in 2015 and were state runners-up last season.
“As a team, obviously we didn’t have the (regular) season we wanted to, but we did have about three losses that were within a score or so,” said Hays, a leader of the Trojans’ defense. “Our record doesn’t show exactly what we can do. If we are hitting on all cylinders, we can definitely do a lot of damage to other teams.”
A two-year varsity player and first-year starter, Hays is a major reason why the Trojans are starting to hit on all cylinders on defense. A former cornerback, the 6-foot, 185-pound player moved to outside linebacker this season because of his ability to cover receivers like a defensive back and deliver hits like a linebacker.
“Jonah is physical enough to play linebacker and is a good enough athlete to play in the defensive secondary,” Trojans head coach Eric Moore said. “With as much as teams pass now, it’s great to have a linebacker who can cover like a defensive back and tackle like a linebacker.”
But that’s not the only reason Moore values Hayes, who is also a standout wrestler and a defending IHSAA State Meet qualifier.
“Jonah is a true student-athlete,” Moore said. “He does a great job in the classroom and is a rare two-sport athlete. Best of all is Jonah Hays’ huge smile when you see him in the hallway. A lot of high school athletes avoid coaches and conversation throughout the day with coaches or adults, in general. Not Jonah. He is always smiling and saying hello. He generally cares for all of the students at Center Grove.
“He’s just a a wonderful young man. It’s been really fun to watch him grow athletically as well as becoming a great young man.”
Hays plans to attend college but isn’t sure if he’ll play sports. He’s drawn the attention of a number of programs but has applied to the IUPUI School of Nursing.
In the meantime, his focus is on the Trojans and their pursuit of a state championship.
“Once we get rolling, we’re usually hard to stop,” Hays said. “A lot of us have matured and we’ve learned the game and we know how to compete now. It’s definitely gotten a lot tougher to stop us. It’s a big difference now.”
THE HAYS FILE
Name: Jonah Hays
Sport: Football (is also a varsity wrestler)
Position: Outside linebacker
Size: 6-foot, 185 pounds
Favorite TV show: “How I Met Your Mother”
Favorite movie: “Step Brothers”
College plans: Has applied to the IUPUI School of Nursing
Parents: Jamie and Shayna Hays