NEW PALESTINE — Kyle Ralph has lost two games at New Palestine. Let that number sink in for a minute. And with 41 wins in three seasons, 28 of which came in a row between this year and last, the young head coach is off to one of the most impressive starts in Indiana high school football history.
A heartbreaking state finals loss to Fort Wayne Snider ended the Dragons’ hopes of a second straight state title, but with Ralph returning to the sideline in 2016, expectations are as high as ever in New Palestine.
A football mastermind, Ralph led the Dragons offense to another record-breaking regular season and shattered multiple state title game records in a 64-61 loss. The Red Rage defense was just as solid, as well, limiting opposing teams to just more than 11 points per game during the regular season.
The Daily Reporter staff caught up with Ralph, who was named Football Coach of the Year, to talk about New Palestine’s memorable 13-1 season and what lies ahead for Dragon Nation.
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DR: What was the biggest difference between this year and your previous two?
KR: The expectation of winning had been well established. I believe our kids walked out there every Friday night and believed they could win because of the body of work they put in during the week but more importantly the offseason to get them to this point. They have developed a lot of confidence over the last two years and they played like it.
DR: The record-breaking offense — how did it happen? You guys never were flashy, just seemed to execute very well.
KR: Because our guys execute the simple things so well and paid attention to those details, we were able to add some very complex elements into our offense this year to make it more difficult to stop us. We also had a very physical offensive line that plays well together, which is where it all starts. When those guys up front were rolling it made us really hard to stop. There isn’t anything flashy or magical to what, we do we just had 11 guys pulling in the same direction and being unselfish. When you have that you can do some good things.
DR: What’s the biggest lesson you took from the loss to Fort Wayne Snider? How will that motivate the underclassmen even more next season?
KR: I think one of the core values of our program got tested, and we passed the test. One of my big sayings is, “There are three kinds of people in life, and two of the three are acceptable. There are winners and losers in life every day; those two kinds of people work hard for what they want. They prepare, they are focused and they compete to their best ability, but someone has to win and someone has to lose. In giving your absolute best, sometimes you fall short, it happens. The third person is a quitter, and that is unacceptable. Quitting in life isn’t an option. You don’t get to quit as a son, a student, a player, a father, a husband or a co-worker. It just isn’t a choice.” We do a ton in the offseason to put our kids one-on-one or in small teams against each other to force them into competition and to force them into scenarios where the odds are against them just to train them to never quit. I think it showed that night, and the true character of our program was revealed.
DR: Can you talk about the senior class and what they mean to the program moving forward?
KR: They meant a ton to this program. They led us with character, commitment and class, which is the staple of our athletic program here at New Palestine. In the classroom, weight room, community and football field, they were as good as you were going to find.
DR: Do you have a funny memory from this season? Or your favorite?
KR: My favorite memory will be the journey. I will never forget the process and the climb we went through as a group. I would say a funny memory from this season would be one of my assistants, Dan Walker, trying to punch the ball out of our running backs arms during drills, missing completely, tripping over a bag, and falling flat on his face in the mud. Our running back drills were always lively.
DR: What’s the future look like for Dragon football?
KR: We have a ton of work to do. Some of our young players need to take a look at what the groups before them have done and really see what commitment, hard work and dedication looks like. Our rising senior class is very small, but they work hard together. Many of them were on the field this year in a starting capacity so that experience will hopefully help us. Our freshmen got a lot of experience this year, some on varsity, some on JV, and we will look for them to help us again in a major way as sophomores. Our incoming freshman have had success at Doe Creek, but this is a whole new level of football, so we look for them to get in here, work hard, buy in and continue their success. The program is strong from first- through 12th-grade, our numbers are up in the youth and junior high system, which I am very proud of. I know one thing is for sure, I have the best staff you’re going to find. They work hard, they care and they relate well to our kids. We can accomplish a lot with the guys I am privileged to coach with. As long as we have kids who are willing to work harder than anyone else and listen and learn we are going to be just fine.