NEW PALESTINE — Kyle Ralph remembers his first summer at New Palestine. Nobody wanted to play the Dragons.
It had nothing to do with his team’s skill, though. Ralph was simply the new guy in town.
However, after four consecutive undefeated regular seasons, the tides have turned. Ralph, who is 50-3 as head coach, now has to turn down opposing teams when inquiring about summer workouts or scrimmages. Everyone wants to play the Dragons.
Warren Central was the lone squad to agree to scrimmage New Palestine that first summer, mainly because they had a first-year head coach, too. Now, the list is much longer and includes some of the most respected programs around the state, including Westfield and Roncalli.
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Finishing this season 9-1, with a sectional-opening loss to rival Columbus East, the Dragons also won their fourth consecutive Hoosier Heritage Conference title.
For his and the team’s accomplishments, Ralph has been named Daily Reporter Football Coach of the Year.
The Daily Reporter caught up with Ralph to talk about the season and what lies ahead for New Palestine football.
DR: What does it mean to the New Palestine program to complete another undefeated HHC season?
KR: It means a lot to the program, the players, the community and the staff. It means a ton to be able to do that. The HHC has represented itself well since I’ve been here and well before that obviously, too. We have had our success. The year before I got here Mt. Vernon was a sectional champion. The next couple years Delta was playing for a regional championship. Yorktown has played for a regional championship. The schools are doing a great job. Shelbyville has had some great teams. It speaks volumes to how hard our kids work and what they do in the offseason.
DR: How was this season different compared to your previous three?
KR: There are always unknowns when you come into a season. But I think this season probably had the most question marks out there. There were a lot of lingering questions that came out of a really good 2015 run (to state) that needed to be answered. Some of them, we didn’t get answered until Week 8 or 9 and 10, or until the very end. It’s always hard to figure out what type of team you are going to be. It was a huge credit to our kids for buying in. We had a lot of guys who played both ways. The young kids stepped up. When we were playing for a state championship the year before, some of those kids were at Doe Creek Middle School. It is always going to be one of those years I remember for how well the kids pulled together.
DR: How have you been able to keep the same team identity — an aggressive defense and high-powered offense — with different players each season?
KR: We have been very fortunate to have a lot of consistency. We have been good so people have been interest in seeing what we have going on and have added qualities to it. The core of the staff, though, is still here. That is really important I think to the program. It is important for the kids to see those coaches over the years. When kids are more invested, they play harder. You obviously don’t do what you do on the field without great players. While we may not have the scholarship-type athletes we’ve had, we have great players in their own right and play incredibly together as a team. When you have that, you get good results out of it.
DR: Columbus East and Westfield, who both made it to the Class 5A title game this season, are programs you are familiar with. What has it been like building relationships around the state since you got here?
KR: When I got the job here, we couldn’t even get teams to come and do stuff with us in the summer. I think it speaks volumes to how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. The previous year we went 3-7, and I come in with no connections and nobody knew me. I just bleed my fingers out on the keyboard typing emails to schools, trying to get people to do something with us that summer. That was great. It was hard to even get teams to do stuff, because we were so unknown. The last couple years, I’ve actually had to turn people down. There are big schools, small school and tournaments people want us to come play in. There are a lot of cool things going on around here. One week, we are going a quad-scrimmage with Westfield, Harrison and Warren Central and then we turn around a few weeks later and are scrimmaging Lawrenceburg and Roncalli. We are really able to push our kids to their limits. We are going to find the best competition we can.
DR: What are your thoughts with the group returning next season?
KR: I want kids to work hard this offseason. The expectations are never going to change around here. We have the most kids we’ve ever had playing a winter sport. We have a lot of guys who will go out for track again this year. We love that they are competing all year around. The kids not involved in sports will be in the weight room and committed to that. The offseason is really enjoyable for me. I love the process of building a team and seeing how your kids mature and develop. Every year you find yourself being surprised by a couple guys.
Kyle Ralph, New Palestine
– 50-3 record in four seasons at New Palestine
– Fourth consecutive undefeated regular season
– Fourth consecutive Hoosier Heritage Conference title