NEW PALESTINE — While watching film following one of the team’s lopsided wins this season, New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph challenged his top-ranked Dragons.
His challenge? Play more like senior middle linebacker Joe Izbicki.
The humble, hard-hitting Izbicki, who recently picked up his second all-state honor after New Palestine’s second-straight state finals run, used tremendous heart and hustle to record a team-high 104 tackles this season, earning him the title of Daily Reporter Football Defensive Player of the Year.
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“There are times when I openly challenged our team to practice and play as hard as Joe did,” Ralph said. “Watch him play and see if that’s something you were achieving as well. If you weren’t, you were falling short of the bar. He is one of the most physical and intense guys I’ve maybe ever coached.”
During nine regular season wins, Izbicki was a constant force in his defensive captain role despite suffering a nagging ankle injury in Week 2. He had nine tackles in the season-opening win against Lawrenceburg and finished with 58 before the state tournament for a defense that allowed just 15 points per game this year.
In five postseason games, he nearly matched his season total with 46 takedowns, including a season-high 14 in one of the closest games of the year at No. 2 Columbus East.
“I did what had to be done (during the injury), and then I picked it back up towards the end of the regular season,” Izbicki said. “When the playoffs came, it hit me that this was my last opportunity to make an impression on anyone at the next level, my town and my legacy.”
Izbicki certainly isn’t the first standout linebacker on the Dragons’ roster in recent seasons. He said learning from players like Sterling Curran (157 tackles in 2014), Gabe Estes (127 tackles in 2014) and Brian Wagner (125 tackles in 2013) played a huge factor in his development. He even took the No. 42 after Wagner, which was actually Ralph’s idea — giving the then-sophomore ample motivation for his final two seasons.
Izbicki made sure to leave the same impression on this year’s underclassmen.
“I think one of the greatest things (I taught the younger kids) was staying humble,” he said. “Luke Ely (freshman linebacker) was a great player for us this season. Kind of the legacy the guys left before me, we run the defense and are the hardest workers on the field. I think I instilled that in Luke.”
In three years at the varsity level, Izbicki enjoyed a 41-2 record while recording 240 tackles. This season, aside from leading the team in takedowns by a wide margin, Izbicki recorded five sacks and finished tied for first on the team with 14 tackles that resulted in a loss. He also forced two fumbles and recovered three more.
In a 56-6 win against Castle during semistate action, Izbicki had a game for the ages. He caught three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown and totaled a team-high 10 tackles and tipped two passes from one of the state’s top passers. He was all over the field.
“There’s a different energy in him and what he does,” Ralph said.
But what lies ahead for one of the program’s all-time greats?
If football doesn’t work out at the next level, Izbicki said he would find a way a to get on the field. According to multiple coaches at New Palestine, the Dragons’ undisputed leader, who plans to study business management in college, would make a great coach one day.
“I know everyone watches film, but that’s just something I love doing,” Izbicki said. “I love coming up with different schemes we can do. In the state game I got the board out, I was talking to coach Blackwell about something. I was writing down some stuff and after I got done one of them (coaches) looked at me and said, ‘you’re going to make one hell of a coach some day.’
“That’s something I really want to do.”
Added Ralph, “He was hands down one of our best guys about knowing the scouting report and knowing the other team. His leadership in that regard was as good as anyone we’ve ever had. He was like another coach on the field. He could pretty much call out the play that was going to happen before it did.
“Everyone’s playing career comes to an end one day, but I definitely think he has a chance to play four or five more years of college football somewhere and make someone happy. After that, if he wants to choose coaching, I think he would be very, very good at it.”