NEW PALESTINE — When Todd Yoder, a former Super Bowl champion, was just a little kid growing up in New Palestine, he used to play tackle football on the back fields on Friday nights while the high school guys played under the lights on the big field.

Little did he know back then he, too, would get to play for New Palestine, where he’d dominate and make a name for himself in the Dragons’ record books and beyond.

Yoder went on to have a stellar career at Vanderbilt University and then a 10-year NFL career playing for Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Washington.

It all comes full circle for Yoder on Oct. 10 when he comes back to New Palestine to be inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.

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School officials will conduct a special ceremony for him at the high school, beginning at noon.

“It was a surprise to me,” Yoder said. “I know having a long NFL career and having a Super Bowl ring, obviously, I was proud pretty proud of my career, but I didn’t know I would be recognized in this kind of way — with this kind of honor.”

Athletics Director Al Cooper is putting together the celebration and luncheon followed by an induction ceremony at 1:15 p.m.

Yoder will become the first New Palestine High School athlete to be inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. He joins former New Palestine football coach Marvin Shepler as the only two Dragons honored by the institution.

“That school has a special place in my heart,” Yoder said. “I was a ball boy there when I was in the fifth and sixth grade.”

According to Indiana-Football.org, the Indiana Football Hall of Fame was founded in 1973. It is an affiliation of the Indiana Football Coaches Association, which establishes scholarships and endowments for excellence in football in Indiana and recognizes individuals who have contributed to the sport in the state.

The Indiana Football Coaches Association, in agreement with the Hall of Fame Board of Directors, formulates and directs policies concerning nominees for induction into the Hall of Fame.

Candidates include coaches, players, officials, sport media, and “citizens of Indiana who have made prominent and lasting contributions to the advancement of football excellence.”

Current New Palestine football coach Kyle Ralph was instrumental in getting Yoder inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Ralph was recruited by Vanderbilt when Yoder was just finishing up his college career. He knew Yoder to be a stellar player and then watched him succeed in the NFL. When Ralph came to New Palestine for the head coaching job and found out Yoder wasn’t in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame, he decided to do something about it.

“It just didn’t make any sense to me that he wasn’t in,” Ralph said. “How could he not be? He’s one of the most accomplished football players to ever come out of this state.”

Two years ago Ralph talked with fellow coaches at his region meeting and began submitting the paperwork for Yoder’s induction.

“It didn’t take the full two years of nonstop work, but it took a lot of people to make this happen,” Ralph said.

Yoder said the induction is special. His parents still live in New Palestine and his father, Bob Yoder, has been a longtime administrator in the school district.

While the younger Yoder lives full time in Clearwater, Florida, where he now teaches and works as a football coach at Calvary Christian High School, he still considers New Palestine to be home.

“I’ve been able to follow New Pal football via the Internet, and for them to win their first state title, that was a really big step for our program back home,” Todd Yoder said.

He plans to bring his wife and three children to New Palestine to watch the Dragons play against New Castle  on Oct. 9, a day before the ceremony.

“I’m looking forward to being able to watch it first hand and be able to see some of the guys I played with,” Yoder said. “I’m really excited to come back.”

His father said he’s also looking forward to the ceremony and the recognition his son will receive.

“It’s just a neat honor for him,” Bob Yoder said. “A lot of times people don’t realize how much work it takes to get to a level like that.”

While Todd Yoder said he is proud of his college and professional career, getting inducted into the Indiana Hall of Fame brings him back to his high school days, some of the best playing days he can recall.

“If I could go back and play any one year of football, I’d go back and play my senior year of high school,” he said. “That’s on top of the NFL and on top of college; there is just something special about that last year of high school football over any of the other years, even the Super Bowl year.”

If you go

Indiana Football Hall of Fame Ceremony

What: Todd Yoder, a 1996 New Palestine High School graduate, will be inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. The ceremony will include insights from Yoder, and Marvin Shepler, a retired New Palestine football coach and Indiana Football Hall of Fame Member. The event will conclude with a meet-and-greet, along with an autograph signing.

When: Saturday, Oct. 10 (lunch at 12:30 p.m., ceremony at 1:15 p.m.)

Where: New Palestine High School

Cost: $10 per person (patrons may pay at the door)

To RSVP, email New Palestine athletics director Al Cooper, acooper@newpal.k12.in.us or call 861-5701. Indicate number of people attending. 

By the numbers

Todd Yoder’s football accomplishments

New Palestine football (1992-96)

• Graduated No. 2 on the NPHS all-time receiving list with 1,060 career yards. He currently ranks fifth, and is one of five players in school history with more than 1,000 receiving yards.

• Played receiver from 1993-94 and running back in 1995. In 1993, he had 508 receiving yards. The following two years, he led the team in receiving with 352 and 200 receiving yards, respectively.

• In 1995, played running back and led the Dragons with 1,219 yards – the only 1,000-yard rushing season in New Palestine between 1991-2001. He totaled 1,419 yards from scrimmage that season, and became the first player in school history to lead the team in rushing and receiving in the same season. He totaled 12 touchdowns that season, as well.

• Yoder competed in basketball, football and track and field while attending New Palestine.

• Yoder was the valedictorian of the Class of 1996.

• He is the only New Palestine alumnus to play in the NFL.

Vanderbilt football (1996-2000)

• Played tight end/H-back for the Commodores. Caught a touchdown pass in his first collegiate game, a 50-yard grab at Notre Dame.

• Four-year letterwinner at Vanderbilt with 80 catches, 1,267 yards and eight touchdowns.

• He was named to the SEC All-Freshman team in 1996, with 21 catches for 471 yards. He was also a member of the SEC Goodworks team in 1998.

• Graduated in 2000 with a degree in chemistry.

In the NFL

• Played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2000-03, the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2004-05 and the Washington Redskins from 2006-09.

• Joined the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 2000, and quickly made a mark as a top special teams performer. He had 57 career special teams tackles.

• Won Super Bowl XXXVII with the Buccaneers.

• In his career, he had 48 catches for 460 yards and eight touchdowns as a tight end, playing 134 games in nine seasons. His top offensive year came in 2004, when he had 14 catches for 157 yards and started eight games for the Jaguars.

• Played 57 games in Tampa Bay, with 14 catches for 143 yards and two TDs.

• In Washington, he played in 61 games, catching 20 passes for 160 yards and six touchdowns. Had four catches in 2009, his final NFL season, but three were for TDs, a career high.

• He was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in the 2001 season after blocking a punt against Baltimore. Earlier that season, he scored his first career touchdown, blocking and recovering a punt against Cincinnati.

Post-NFL

• Yoder has been the head football coach at Calvary Christian High School, in Clearwater, Florida, since 2013. He also teaches at the school.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.