NEW PALESTINE — When Kyle Ralph speaks, it’s easy to envision a hard-nosed gridiron general molded by decades of experience.
His knowledge of the game drips with battle-scarred perspective. His approach is traditional, strategic and smashmouth.
These characteristics are a big part of his success; the reason he’s lost only one game as a head coach to date and led the New Palestine Dragons to a perfect 15-0 season, which culminated in winning the Class 4A state championship last November.
Yet, despite Ralph’s old soul impression, he’s just getting started, a relative newcomer to the Indiana high school football landscape — one he is taking by storm in short order.
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At 13-1 in his first year as a head coach in 2013 and undefeated since, Ralph’s reputation is skyrocketing, and it’s evident by the respect already earned among his peers.
Selected as the head coach of the South All-Stars by the Indiana Football Coaches Association, Ralph will lead several of the state’s best graduated senior players for a second consecutive offseason.
Last summer, he steered the East to a dominating 56-17 victory against the West in the annual Hall of Fame Classic in Anderson.
On July 17, he will patrol the sidelines, this time at North Central High School, for the IFCA/Grange Insurance North-South All-Star Classic.
“It’s a great challenge trying to get kids from every walk of life and to get those kids to try to figure out how to play together and try to be successful in about five days,” Ralph said. “It’s one of the harder challenges you’re going to come across as a coach, but it’s fun. … It’s a unique thing to be a part of.”
With last year’s trial and triumph already written, Ralph plans to tackle his latest all-star task in similar fashion, and it begins and ends on the first day.
First, everyone needs to let go of the past. Rivalries don’t matter anymore. Second, work hard to win. Third, enjoy the moment.
“I really do believe it’s a big, big percentage of the coach’s responsibility to make it a fun experience for the kids,” Ralph said. “I was fortunate enough to play in some all-star games when I was a player in high school and in college, and be able to coach in one in Cincinnati and obviously the one here last year.
“It’s always the coach’s duty and responsibility to make sure the kids have a great experience. I think if you set the tone that way, then the kids are going to follow suit.”
As a former standout at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati and a star lineman at the University of North Carolina, Ralph’s ability to relate to his players is natural. His 6-foot-4 presence doesn’t hurt either.
When mixed with the projected talent on the South roster, including Daily Reporter Co-Defensive Player of the Year Gabe Estes (a Marian University signee), it could make for another memorable summer.
On offense, University of Indianapolis recruits running back Shakir Paschall of Carmel and quarterback Bryce Stancombe of Bloomington South have spots on the East. Joining them is Class 6A state champion rusher Dorian Tate of Ben Davis.
Mt. Vernon’s Lucas Rice, a 6-2, 285-pound lineman, is also part of the group up front.
On defense, Estes, who finished fourth in the state in sacks (15) and led the Red Rage with 46 tackles for a loss, is at linebacker.
“One of the best parts of these games is you get to work with your players one last time, which is kind of nice to be able to go through that for one more game,” Ralph said. “One of the other fun parts of these games is being able to see and coach some of the other great players.
“It’s the last chapter in their high school football lives, and you want to end it on something positive and enjoyable.”
Eastern Hancock head coach Jim O’Hara, who has 98 career wins in 13 seasons, said he believes coach Ralph will do just that.
He’s the perfect man for the job.
“The way I interpret it is you’re one of the best coaches in the state of Indiana to be the head coach of the South All-Star team,” said O’Hara, a state championship coach at Cathedral in 2007. “It’s a tremendous compliment and well-earned. It’s a great testament to what his team did this past year. It’s an honor.”
The 2015 North-South All-Star Classic is scheduled for July 17 at North Central High School. Here is a look at the tentative rosters for both teams:
OL — Cody Munster, Lowell; Issac Barrios, Elkhart Central; Austin Conner, Woodlan; Luke Harris, Harrison; Dillon Pierie, Munster; Ben Stephenson, Maconaquah; Andrew Wood, Oak Hill; Blake Yager, Fort Wayne Carroll.
TE — Inoke Moala, Penn; Morgan Kral, Crown Point.
WR — Antwan Davis, Lake Central; Justin Drudge, Plymouth; Riley Miller, Yorktown; Jerrell Poindexter, Concord; J.R. Robinson, Merrillville
QB — Parker Fox, Winamac; Jake Paliga, Andrean
FB — Justin Mersch, Pioneer
RB — Blake Elming, McCutcheon; Joel Spegal, Delta; Tyler Weller, New Prairie
K — Matt Plesac, Hobart
DE — Austin Fleming, Rensselaer Central; Seth Johnston, FW Carroll; Myles Morrow, Michigan City; Jacob Schmatz, Mishawaka
DT — Jarin Bush, Carroll (Flora); Jackson Grahovac, FW Dwenger; Izayah Newsom, Mishawaka Marian; Matt Swartz, FW Snider
ILB — Noah Boardman, LaPorte; Pierce Harnish, Norwell; Cam Ridenour, Northridge; Kyle Treber, Penn
OLB — Gunnar Goebel, Homestead; Adam Hoffer, New Haven; Cody Howell, Tri-Central; K.J. Singleton, Lake Central
CB — Christian Campbell, South Bend Washington; Jordan Eldridge, Leo; Da’Mario Johnson, Hammond Morton; Jamie Johnson, Andrean; Keion Powers, FW Wayne
S — Preston Hansel, Culver; Ab Kiger, Rensselaer Central
P — Leland Bowling, Lewis Cass
Coaching staff — Chris Meeks, Rensselaer Central (head coach); Phil Mason, Andrean; Derek Thompson, Lowell; Tom Wogoman, Northridge; Bill Gumm, New Prairie; Doug Dinan, FW Carroll; Bill Skelton, Homestead; Eric Nowlin, Rensselaer Central; Mike Wilhelm, Yorktown; Steve Brown, Yorktown
QB — Timmy Herrin, Terre Haute South; Bryce Stancombe, Bloomington South
RB — Dorian Tate, Ben Davis; Shakir Paschall, Carmel
OL — Braxton Zachary, Indian Creek; Lucas Rice, Mt. Vernon; Michael Martini, East Central; Ashaun Miller, Terre Haute North; Ryan Pape, Westfield; Matt Anderson, Franklin Central; Brad Cullison, Southport; Austin Smogor, Center Grove; Ezra Followell, Columbus North; Tommy Davis, Trinity Lutheran
TE — Sam Collins, Heritage Hills; Glen Calvin, Lawrence Central
WR — Justin Mourning, Shortridge; Joe Hart, Lapel; Malik Higgins, Evansville Reitz; Trey Deaton, Martinsville; Rashad Medaris, Pike; Cardell Tucker, Southport
CB — Gabe Lakstins, Avon; Jailyn Harden, Ben Davis; Josh Lloyd, Fishers; Wilmer Cole, Warren Central
DL — Zeth Jumps, North Vermillion; Tyler Reed, Lutheran; Nate Canterbury, Scecina; Conner Roberts, Columbus East; Austin Osborne, Decatur Central; RauShawn Brent, Avon; Donelle Bryant, Lawrence North; Kendall Hune, Carmel
LB — Andy Hunt, Heritage Christian; Logan McCann, Evansville Mater Dei; Nick Sprecher, Tri-West; Eli Daniel, Charlestown; Gabe Estes, New Palestine; Cody Stockton, Cathedral; Ryan Wargel, Evansville North; Quentin Moon, Pike
S — James Marshall, North Posey; Hunter Sego, Madison
P — Jacob Bockelman, Evansville Memorial
Coaching staff — Kyle Ralph, New Palestine (head coach); Jimmy Graves, Pike; Justin Dixson, Decatur Central; Brian Crabtree, North Vermillion; Todd Wilkerson, Heritage Hills; Anthony Levy, Trinity Lutheran; Kyle Harksema, Franklin; Bob Hasseman, Franklin; Stan Jochim, Heritage Hills; Aaron Humphrey, Charlestown
The Ralph Report
1: Number of losses Kyle Ralph has endured since taking over the New Palestine football program in 2013.
28: The total number of wins coach Ralph’s Dragons have amassed in their two-year run of dominance.
15: New Palestine’s new season-best for wins after after a perfect season en route to the Class 4A title last November. Prior to winning state, the team set the bar at 13 games in 2013.
121: The touchdowns coach Ralph’s team scored in 2014.
55: The final number of sacks recorded by the New Palestine defense last season.
273.4: Yards coach Ralph’s offense averaged every week en route to the program’s first football state championship.
39: Margin of victory coach Ralph led the East team to as the head coach during the 14th Annual East-West Football Classic. The East won 56-17.