New-look Center Grove defense peaking at right time

Like many players before him, Ryne Roehling waited patiently for his turn to apply his stamp to Center Grove football.

Learning to improve his skills during practices, grab the attention of coaches and gradually work his way up the Trojans’ defensive depth chart was, as expected, challenging.

But, Roehling quickly adds, well worth it.

A starting defensive end, Roehling, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior, is one of many Center Grove players making the most of their first opportunity to collect extensive playing time now that starters from the unbeaten 2020 and 2021 Class 6A state championship squads have graduated.

Newcomers are particularly apparent on defense.

This means you, defensive backs Gage Rees and Michael Soderdahl, ends Ryder Woolwine and Elijah Chandler and linebacker Kaden McConnell. The same applies to tackle Nate Johnson, linebacker Joey Gaffney and DBs Parker Doyle, Andre Merritt, Ethan Watt and Matthew Neff.

Having played sparingly the past two years, this group entered the 2022 season hungry.

“Last year, I was on punt returns, and that’s it,” Roehling said. “The most important thing was being on the scout team. Our scout team defensive line was really good, and actually, most of our (current) starters.

“Nate was there, and Elijah was there, too. And I started JV, too.”

The current Trojans defense, now playing at its most-swarming best, faces another stern test tonight against an undefeated Fort Wayne Carroll team averaging just north of 37 points per game.

Though the Trojans managed to shut out two regular-season opponents, their best outing of the season was last week’s 33-10 semistate win over Cathedral, a game played in cold, windy conditions at Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis.

“Just getting everyone playing time was important,” Roehling said. “Really, (linebacker Owen Bright) and (defensive back Gavin Oakes) had played a lot, but Gavin got hurt and hasn’t played much.

“Just being locked in as a unit completely really helped us to start taking strides defensively. Our pass rush, especially, has stepped up. We didn’t really get much pressure the first couple weeks.”

Fort Wayne Carroll’s offense features the passing of sophomore quarterback Jimmy Sullivan with the running of classmate Nathan Starks, who at 5-foot-7 has the potential to be difficult to locate at times behind his much-larger offensive linemen.

Trojans coach Eric Moore expects his defense to be up to the challenge.

“You’ve got to understand, probably experience-wise, that’s the toughest group,” Moore said. “We lost three deep on the defensive line. I mean, we’ve got kids playing in college that didn’t even play for us last year on the D-line.

“These kids had to grow up, and they are just starting to find their way.”

The process contained assorted low points.

In Week 6, visiting Lawrence Central rolled up 33 first-half points before Center Grove played stout in the final two quarters of a 63-41 win. Three weeks later came a home loss to Cathedral, 40-29, that saw the Fighting Irish put up 27 points in the final 9:02. The Trojans then allowed 32 points to Warren Central in regional play.

“They had a horrible game in Week 9 (the loss to Cathedral), we applied a little pressure on them and they grew up and stepped up,” Moore said. “They’ve done a great job.”

Vocal leaders for the Trojans defensively are Bright, who calls out plays, and the perpetually fired-up Rees, a senior safety who is second on the team in tackles with 72, tied for the team lead in interceptions (two) with Soderdahl and Doyle and first in words spoken during game competition.

Roehling conducts business a bit more quietly, but just as effectively.

“He enjoyed the process. Never one time did he complain about sitting on the bench behind kids going to Louisville, Ohio State and Michigan State,” Moore said of Roehling. “He waited for his time, and now he’s got a chance to play.

“Ryne is the essence of opportunity.”

Best of all, he’s not the only one.