NEW PALESTINE — As the college offers and verbal commitments began to materialize over the months, weeks and hours leading up to the start of national signing day, the New Palestine Dragons fittingly hatched a plan.
With six senior football players set to make their choices official, the program’s largest group to sign national letters of intent decided to the share the stage — much like on the gridiron — as one Wednesday morning.
“As the day was getting closer, it was something I talked to them about, doing it together as a group of six. They were all on board with the idea,” New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph said. “It was a great finish to what has been a great career for those guys.”
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Joined by their parents, friends, administrators and coaches, each Dragon applied pen to paper inside the New Palestine gymnasium simultaneously, cementing their futures, a direct byproduct of their prolific prep careers.
The New Palestine “Signing Day Six” included offensive tackle Nick Derheimer (Indiana State), quarterback Alex Neligh (University of Indianapolis), center Andrew Yazel (St. Joseph’s College), linebacker Joe Izbicki (Marian University), wide receiver Duke Blackwell (University of St. Francis), and running back Nick Brickens (St. Francis).
“To sign with all my friends definitely meant a lot. It made the day even more memorable,” said Neligh, who finished second in the voting for 2015 Indiana Mr. Football. “It kind of coincides with the whole motto that we had all year of doing everything as a team, so to go out and start our college careers off together was pretty special.”
Collectively, the six played significant roles in the Dragons success the past three years.
As starters the past two seasons, the group led the program to a 28-1 record, winning 28 consecutive games, a Class 4A state title in 2014, and a record-setting Class 5A state runner-up finale this past November at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Dragons were 41-2 the past three years while breaking the state’s record for points scored in a single season twice with 854 scored in 2015 and established the state mark for yards gained in a season (7,701) for a second straight year.
Key in paving the road for the Dragons’ dominating production was Derheimer, who is the third player in recent years to sign with a Division-I college.
Yazel, a three-year starter, played an equal part as the Dragons amassed more than 18,000 yards in three seasons and set an overall IHSAA state finals record for total offense (757).
Neligh, who started just two seasons under center, concluded his prep career as the school’s career leader in passing yards (5,374), passing touchdowns (64), rushing touchdowns (56), total touchdowns (120) and total offensive yards (8,718), among numerous other school and state finals records.
Izbicki started three years at linebacker and posted 240 tackles in his career.
Brickens rushed for 1,627 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior while starting both ways. At safety, he compiled 232 tackles in his career.
Blackwell set the school record for career receiving yards (2,238) and touchdowns (30). In his final game at state, he collected a record 328 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
“We talk a lot about the legacy stuff, and this was a great way for them to leave that behind,” said Ralph, who believes the total 2016 signees could increase to 10 in the near future. “I don’t think you’ll ever be able to replace this group we had in 2016, who they are and what they brought in effort, experience and talent to the table.
“I’m very proud of those guys and their legacy.”