Senior staff writer
Manual and Center Grove high schools are about 12 miles apart, but their football programs are light years apart.
The two teams represent the range from north to south of The Southsider Voice’s coverage of nine Southside teams.
They also represent so many contrasts.
Center Grove, the reigning 6A state football champions, have about 100 players suited up from seniors to freshmen; play on artificial turf in front of thousands of fans; and have football facilities that are among the state’s finest. Fans can pay a premium for season seating and reserved parking for games.
The Trojans own two state titles under coach Eric Moore (161-54 at Center Grove), and its program enjoys unbridled support from a strong football parents organization, adult athletic boosters and a youth football feeder program.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Manual had one of the state’s premier programs as it reigned on the Southside. The Redskins with Ray Schultz and running back Dick Pasch locked down the 1958 mythical state championship.
Class 3A Manual has about 45 players and only fields a varsity team. The Redskins attract a few alumni and students to its games, and their total home attendance doesn’t come close to the stadium capacity for a single game at Center Grove.
Their goals for the 2016 season also are vastly different.
Center Grove seeks its second straight state championship under Moore.
Manual simply wants to double its three wins from 2015.
While Center Grove’s program is atop the Indiana High School Athletic Association, Manual’s is undoubtedly on the rise under second-year coach Robert Orkman, who returns with a solid offense led by sophomore quarterback Deangelo Dean.
The Redskins overcame so many hurdles last year. They snapped a 20-game losing streak, won two games in a row for the first time since 2007 and won more games since the 2002 team that was coached by Schultz.
Returning offensive lineman Richard Chambers described the emotions after Manual defeated Washington 50-0 last season to snap a three-year skid. “It was an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “It was so great to finally win, so I cried.”
The Redskins backed it up with a 14-6 homecoming win against Anderson Preparatory Academy. Orkman received numerous emails after both wins, and Manual alumni began stopping by the school to offer their congratulations.
“I was very excited and happy that they would take time out of their day to come up and congratulate us for the hard work that we did,” Orkman said. “We want to build on that excitement.”
“The school, players and myself as a head coach are excited about the future. I really want these guys to work hard and understand what they are playing for – they’re not just playing for themselves but they are playing for the school and the community and to bring that excitement of Manual football back.”
At Center Grove, winning is the norm.
“We have tradition now,” Moore said. “We have pride and our expectations are that (state). I don’t want them to settle for less.”
Expectations may have been high when Moore arrived in 1999, but the results historically weren’t there. The Trojans kept progressing and won the 2008 Class 5A state championship with a great comeback in the title game against Carmel.
“Every team, when they start a new season, puts their goals down,” Moore said. “If you don’t put your goals down of going undefeated and winning state, then I don’t know what you’re shooting for – really do that here. When I arrived here the kids were breaking out state champion (signs), and I didn’t like that because that wasn’t attainable yet, we hadn’t even won a sectional.”
Last year the Trojans were 8-0 and claimed the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference championship but faced Cathedral in the final regular-season game.
“Was that (8-0) a good thing or a bad thing? If we lose to them, then it would put a chip on our shoulder for the playoffs,” Moore said. “But the kids were determined; to their credit they weren’t going to lose.”
The situations and goals may be different for Manual and Center Grove, but each team wants to make more history this season.
Center Grove opens at home at Ray Skillman Field against Warren Central at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19, while Manual travels to Gary Roosevelt for its opener Saturday, Aug. 20, at 3 p.m. The Redskins are at home at Ray Schultz Field Friday, Aug. 26, against Indiana Deaf School at 7:30 p.m.