Drew Wheat didn’t average nearly eight yards a carry last season by utilizing one style of running the football.
Possessing the speed to distance himself from would-be tacklers, the Center Grove senior has also mastered the ability to make himself small while maneuvering around linemen in the trenches.
Neither of these, however, are Wheat’s calling card.
His reputation for changing direction in order to either elude a defender or shake free from one’s grasp is as unique as it is wide-ranging, particularly for someone checking in at a deceptively tough 5-foot-10, 160 pounds.
But that’s Wheat, and it’s what Wheat does.
“In the new spread offense, Drew is that feature guy who can go full speed one way, and then put his foot in the ground and cut back the other way,” said Trojans coach Eric Moore, now in his 24th season. “He practices it, but a lot of it’s instinctive.”
Wheat rushed for 944 yards through the Trojans’ first 11 games last season. Included were a career-best 203-yard effort in a 41-14 disposal of Carmel in Week 3, and 141 yards on 11 carries as the Trojans steamrolled Lawrence Central, 48-0, three weeks later.
His signature run of Center Grove’s second consecutive 14-0 season — and a strong candidate for the team’s play of the year — was Wheat’s 67-yard touchdown late in the third quarter in the mud of Arlington Middle School’s archaic field in a 21-6 win against Cathedral.
Wheat started up the middle, cut right, accelerated in the sloppiest of conditions and was gone.
Unfortunately, he sustained a sprained left ankle early in the third quarter of Center Grove’s regional win at Lawrence North, and Wheat toted the rock a total of only six more times in the semistate and state championship games combined.
“I hated that part, not being able to help my team,” Wheat said.
Now healthy, Wheat spent the offseason working to be even better.
“I did a lot of weightlifting to try to get my legs stronger,” he said. “I feel if I get stronger in the lower body, it helps with power and with staying healthy.”
Much of Center Grove’s starting backfield will look different this season, as junior Tyler Cherry takes over quarterbacking duties. The primary ball carriers will be Wheat and two of his classmates, Micah Coyle and Eli Hohlt.
Starters returning along the offensive line are left guard Austin Wiese and left tackle Charlie Gardner.
“Drew doesn’t have to do anything different this season,” Moore said. “He always gives 1,000%, his work ethic is tremendous and he leads by example.”
Wheat looks forward to sharing the workload with Coyle, giving the Trojans the makings of yet another outstanding running tandem.
“That’s why we’re a good duo. We can both run inside or outside, and we can catch passes out of the backfield, too,” Wheat said. “I’m actually very excited because I think our team is looking good, and we’ll be fine.
“We lost a lot of people, obviously, but we lost a lot of people two years ago and look what we did last season.”
Aug. 19;Warren Central
Sept. 2;at Louisville Trinity
Sept. 9;at Ben Davis
Sept. 16;North Central
Sept. 23;Lawrence Central
Sept. 30;at Pike
Oct. 7;at Lawrence North
(all games scheduled for 7 p.m.)
SCOUTING THE TROJANS
Coach: Eric Moore
Last season: 14-0; defeated Westfield, 27-21, in Class 6A state championship game
Key returnees: RB Micah Coyle, DB Parker Doyle, P/K Nolan Foley, OL Charlie Gardner, SE Zach Greller, WR Eli Hohlt, OL John Lyon, OL Luke McDaniel, DB Gavin Oakes, DB Gage Rees, DB Jalen Thomeson, RB Drew Wheat, DB Ethan Watt, OL Austin Wiese and LB Kyle Williams, seniors; LB Owen Bright, LB Joe Gaffney, OL Payton Hutchins, LB Kaden McConnell, DB Michael Soderdahl and LB Ronnie Thompson, juniors
Top newcomers: DE Chris Carrington, DL Isiah Turner, seniors; QB Tyler Cherry, SE Noah Coy and DL Nate Johnson, juniors; TE T.J. Williams and DE Ryan Woolwine, sophomores.
Outlook: This is one of those seasons opposing football programs view as potential payback against the Trojans. However, many of Moore’s less heralded teams have been in this position and excelled. Not always right away, but the weekly improvement that’s long been a hallmark of Trojans football makes Moore’s squads a threat to advance deep into the postseason.
The traditionally brutal opening three weeks of the season has grown to four, with a game at powerhouse Louisville Trinity now part of the team’s growth curve.
Cherry is now the full-time starter at QB, and his options many as he hands off or throws to Wheat, Coyle or Hohlt. The left side of the offensive line is another strength with holdovers Wiese and Gardner. Defensively, returning secondary starters Oakes (49 tackles) and Thomeson (60), along with linebacker Bright (29), will be called upon to lead the way. Foley returns having averaged 32.4 yards per punt and scoring 86 points with six field goals and 69-of-74 accuracy on conversion kicks.
“This team has a lot of hard-working kids that have speed,” Moore said. “We have a lot of guys playing football who are seniors who haven’t played a lot of (varsity) because of the kids who were ahead of them. It’s going to be a slow improvement because of that. As a coach, you have to be more patient, and you have to look closely at your personnel. We have some outstanding sophomores, and we’re going to have to use them, but use them in moderation.”