NEW PALESTINE — Their collegiate futures are set, but for New Palestine’s Alex Neligh and Nick Brickens there is still one more high school football obligation ahead.
This summer, the two all-state senior standouts will play in the 2016 Community Chrysler of Martinsville/IFCA All-Star Football Classic at North Central High School.
Both were selected to the South Team for the 50th anniversary game, which will be played at 7 p.m. July 15.
“They are two of our captains, two unanimous captains. They are two guys who have worked incredibly hard in our program and everything it stands for,” New Palestine head coach Kyle Ralph said. “It being the 50th anniversary of the game is tremendous.”
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The yearly all-star event first began in 1967 with the South All-Stars defeating the North by the narrowest of margins, 15-14.
Since the inaugural contest, the South has built a 27-22 series lead.
In 2014, New Palestine record-setting quarterback Blake Luker, who was picked as a cornerback, helped the South All-Stars win its fourth straight game against its northern neighbors.
Last year, the Dragons had two players named to the South All-Stars in Noah Grable at tight end and Gabe Estes on defense. Grable competed, but Estes was unable to attend.
This marks the second time the Dragons have had double representation on the field, a rare feat to achieve, said Ralph.
The All-Star Classic selection process, which begins with region all-star voting in the postseason, limits schools with two players to five programs overall per roster.
“New Palestine is one of the five that got two players in. You’re competing against Ben Davis, Carmel, Warren Central, Center Grove, Pike and all the powerhouse Class 6A schools,” said Ralph, who was the South All-Star head coach in last year’s game. “I think that speaks volumes for the quality of those two players and the stride our program has made as a whole behind guys like that, too.”
There is a potential for a third, however, with senior wide receiver and University of St. Francis signee Duke Blackwell chosen as an alternate.
All three players were selected to the Region VIII All-Star team, which made them eligible for the All-Star Classic.
“If someone would drop out of the game at the wide receiver position, then they’ll look to try to get Duke into it,” Ralph said.
Based on numbers alone, all three Dragons are worthy of all-star honors on the South Team, which will be coached by the legendary Dick Dullaghan, who won eight state titles in his career at Carmel and Ben Davis.
As starters the past two seasons, the New Palestine trio played key roles in steering the program to a 28-1 record, winning 28 consecutive games, a Class 4A state title in 2014 and a record-setting 5A state runner-up finish this past November at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The past three years, New Palestine went 41-2 while shattering the state’s record for points scored in a single season — two times — with 854 this past fall.
The Dragons’ offense set a new state mark for yards gained in a single season with 7,701, a record they established in back-to-back campaigns.
Neligh, a University of Indianapolis signee, finished second in voting for the 2015 Indiana Mt. Football award.
The 6-foot-2 signal caller 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.
Only a two-year starter at quarterback, Neligh, a two-time All-Hancock County Player of the Year, nearly marched the Dragons to a second straight state title in the program’s first year at the 5A level.
His 8,718 career total yards of offense is unprecedented along with his six single-season benchmarks in passing (2,852 yards), passing TDs (36), rushing yards (2,097), rushing TDs (37), total offense (4,949 yards) and offensive TDs (73).
In New Palestine’s 64-61 loss to Fort Wayne Snider in the state championship game, he passed for a state finals record 501 yards — 667 total yards — and had four rushing and four passing touchdowns while leading the Dragons back from a 28-point deficit.
Brickens, who has signed with the University of St. Francis, rushed for 1,627 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior while starting both ways.
At safety, the 5-9, 191-pound bruiser racked up 232 tackles in his career.
As the team’s punter, he averaged more than 38 yards per kick and nearly averaged a first down per carry (9.6) as New Palestine’s lead rusher.
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.
He amassed 1,148 yards and 17 scores as the Dragons No. 1 receiver.
“This will be their last go-around. High school football is different. It’s very special and very unique, and I’m really excited for them to have the opportunity to go out there and play one more time,” Ralph said. “Obviously, we don’t win games because we have bad players. We win games because we have great players.”
The experience will no doubt mirror their talents, Ralph said.
Selected to return as an assistant coach on the South Team, Ralph “respectfully declined” so someone else could get the opportunity.
Ralph’s South All-Stars lost last year 20-7 during a lightning-delayed event, which required a running clock to complete before midnight.
“I still had a great time last year,” Ralph said. “I know we lost the game, but I don’t even remember what the score was. What I remember is every moment at Camp Riley. Hands down that was the most important thing along with the kids I got to coach. The score of the game, I couldn’t even guess it.”
All proceeds from the game go to help Camp Riley and the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.