Center Grove’s fraternity of 1,000-yard running backs might not be welcoming new members this season.
Rylan Cook seems fine with that, as long as the three-time defending Class 6A state champions keep on keeping on.
Cook, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound senior whose physical dimensions scream for him to test the perimeter when handed the football, is much more inclined to immerse himself in the large-bodied chaos going on between the tackles.
He, along with classmate Matthew Yoder and junior Austin Hennessy, form a three-pronged ground attack for the Trojans (4-1), ranked second in 6A going into tonight’s game at Lawrence Central.
More often than not, Center Grove has showcased a feature back during Eric Moore’s tenure as coach, which dates back to 1999. Some seasons have even resulted in the Trojans boasting a pair of 1,000-yard rushers.
What the program is doing now, in a sense, runs against the grain of tradition.
In the end, however, it’s Moore and his assistant coaches doing what positions their team to chalk up as many Ws as possible over the course of a football season.
“We’re sort of excited because it makes us so unpredictable. It’s a great situation,” Moore said. “We were using four guys, now we’re using three, and we’re still trying to be deceptive with that. The two seniors just know so much more, and they’re good blockers.”
According to Moore, his offense was to also include Jack Browning, but the junior sustained a Lisfranc injury to his foot in the season opener, a 27-10 loss to Ohio powerhouse St. Edward, and is out the remainder of the season.
Now add the development of emerging talents in sophomore Nolan Rees and freshman Drake McClurg, and the options become that much more plentiful.
And while senior quarterback Tyler Cherry isn’t asked to run the football very often, the fact that he’s completing 75% of his pass attempts benefits CG’s ground attack.
The 5-11, 180-pound Yoder leads the trio with 331 yards on 50 carries this season. Close behind is Cook with 54 tries and 297 yards, while Hennessy, who is 6-0 and 195, has 24 rushing attempts for 113 yards.
Cook’s straight-ahead approach comes in handy in goal-line situations, as evidenced by his team-high seven touchdowns. He’s scored at least one TD in all five games this season.
More than halfway through the regular-season schedule, the 100-yard plateau has been eclipsed only once by a Center Grove back, that being Yoder’s 103-yard performance in a 34-7 victory over Louisville Trinity in Week 3.
All this from a trio that contributed a combined 232 yards rushing to the 2022 squad — which, by the way, amassed a total of 3,543 behind seniors Micah Coyle and Jalen Thomeson en route to a 12-2 finish.
“I’m more of an inside runner. I really don’t have the speed that Matthew does,” Cook said. “Hennessy is fast and physical. It kind of lessens the workload for all of us. We’re fresh every week, and it gives (the offense) flexibility.”
The three-back approach doesn’t only lessen the workload of each of the running backs, it allows the Trojans’ coaches to play the hot hand.
“We’re all very similar, but I would say Austin is a little faster and a little stronger. But not by much,” Yoder said. “My strength is that I’m good at breaking tackles for my size.
“I rarely go into the game knowing I’m getting the ball and not feeling 100%. If one of us is having a bad game, the other two make up for it.”
Center Grove at Lawrence Central, 7 p.m.
Mooresville at Franklin, 7 p.m.
Perry Meridian at Greenwood, 7 p.m.
Martinsville at Whiteland, 7 p.m.
Edgewood at Indian Creek, 7 p.m.
Switzerland County at Edinburgh, 7 p.m.
Brebeuf Jesuit at Roncalli, 7 p.m.
North Central (Farmersburg) vs. Greenwood Christian, 7:30 p.m.*
* — at Center Grove Middle School North