By Brian Ruckle
The Center Grove Trojans will start their 2020 campaign for another state championship run with a far more experienced crew than they did in their surprising run to the 2019 6A state championship game.
This next Friday night, Aug. 21, if the season proceeds as scheduled, the Trojans start their season again against Warren Central, the team they lost to in last year’s opener but defeated in the playoffs. The team plays Decatur Central Aug. 28 and then has their re-match with Carmel, the team they lost the state championship to by three points last year.
“A lot of changes can happen in a year,” said Center Grove Head Football Coach Eric Moore, noting the team is now ranked first in some polls. “We got a lot of kids on the field last year. We are very experienced on defense. Our offensive skill players are the most experienced I have had since I have been here as far as kids who have all had to play in big games.”
Moore said the defensive line, running back and quarterback are the team’s three areas of greatest strength. Senior Carson Steele will be back for his fourth year as a starter and his senior year. He led the conference in rushing as a freshman and a sophomore but last year was injured for most of the season. During a July interview, Moore said Steele “looked awesome” in practice. But he won’t be alone. He will be joined by junior Daniel Weems in the backfield. “He came back this year and now we are better because people had to play in his position. Daniel Weems got all those reps as a sophomore and now we have a junior and a senior with great experience in the backfield. And we have a couple of other guys backing them up that also have great experience as well,” said Moore.
Junior quarterback Tayven Jackson was a new sophomore quarterback last year. Now he is a highly sought national recruit. “He got a lot better with the experience last year. He improved every week. We are extremely excited for him,” said Moore.
On the defensive line, Caden Curry is one of the premier players in the Midwest with offers pouring in from around the country. Senior Austin Booker is also expected to be a force. They will be joined by Owen Wright, James Schott and Shane Bennett.
Seniors Jackson Schott and Trey Clark are back at linebacker. They will be joined on defense by linebacker Matt Hohlt, a transfer from Fishers. Other linebackers include juniors Trei Specker and Elijah Matheson. “(Hohlt) was a two-year starter at Fishers as a linebacker. He is new to our program, but he is a senior player with a lot of experience,” said Moore. “We have a good five or six guys battling it out at linebacker.”
Moore said the team is strong at the corner and safety positions. Contenders include seniors Dane Young and Matt Soderdahl at the corner, and challengers Harrison Roberts and Jackson Griffin. At safety there are Brayton Spetter, MItchell Evans and Conner Burries. “We have eight corners and four safeties really battling it out for those four spots.”
The offensive line is young and improving but has the advantage of size. “We have not had this kind of size ever, so we are hoping to use our size to our advantage instead of our lack of experience,” said Moore.
On special teams, Austin Watson will return, and he will also be the punter. Quarterback Tayven Jackson will share punting duties with Watson. “We have a team that made it all the way to the finals. If you get any kind of luck at all and you know how to win, that is a big advantage,” said Moore.
Looming over the season will be the pandemic. Moore said they have had to make a lot of changes this year. “We have a lot of social distancing going on. We only have six or seven guys in the film room spread out 10 feet apart. The weight room is spread out. We spread out our water bottles 10-12 yards apart,” said Moore. “It looks like nobody is being a teammate; we can’t do that. We don’t high five, we don’t get into group breakdown, we don’t shake hands or anything. We are proceeding as normal with COVID(-19) virus stipulations.”