Kyle Ralph, the fifth head coach in New Palestine football history, pending school board approval, met his players for the first time as a group Wednesday morning in the NPHS auditorium. He spoke of winning a state title, players being positive role models and doing things “the right way.” Ralph, who will teach social studies at the high school, certainly knows of what he speaks. One of the highest rated offensive linemen in the nation coming out of high school in Cincinnati, Ralph went on to an all-ACC career at the University of North Carolina. And, by all accounts, Ralph’s character is just as impressive as his past playing ability. It was Ralph’s passion for teaching and molding student-athletes into good citizens — not just good football players — that led the New Palestine administration to select Ralph, 28, as the new leader of the Dragons’ football program. Ralph sat down with the Daily Reporter Wednesday morning after his meeting with players to discuss his vision for the team.
Q: You’re an Ohio native, and went to college in North Carolina. But your wife, Ashley, is from New Palestine and her family still resides here. Is that how you landed in southern Hancock County?
A: It was kind of what got my interest peaked in the job. We come back here a lot, and when coach (Tim) Able left before last year, I called up here about the position. We talked about how coach (Charlie) Hill was going to become the interim; they were going to open the job up later. So I very respectfully put everything on hold, but as soon as the job became open again, I went for it.
It was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. To put my wife back here near family, and to be at a school that’s academically and athletically strong as this one is ... to me, it’s a perfect fit. It’s a great place to raise a family, and for my wife to be able to come back home near her family, it’s a good opportunity. I just can’t say enough good things about it.
Q: How did you and Ashley, a Ball State graduate, meet?
A: We met through friends in high school and kept in touch. Then, started dating in college.
Q: On one of your trips to New Palestine last season, you watched from the stands (Sept. 22) as the Dragons lost to Yorktown 27-20. What were your thoughts on the Dragons’ performance? As a coach, you must have viewed the game from that perspective.
A: That’s one of the hard things about being a coach. When you try to be a fan, you can’t just be a fan. From a coaching perspective, I did my whole thing where I sat up in the stands and checked the roster and the players on the field to see who’s was coming back, watch some of those kids. And just watch the technique.
But, really the big thing that I watched from the game was just the effort. That’s one of the biggest things. It’s easy to come into a place and install your system and teach your technique — that stuff takes care of itself. But when you watch the effort of the kids, that’s the real difference maker, as far as ‘take a job or not take a job.’ And I think the kids’ effort in the Yorktown game was really good, they just fell a little bit short.
There’s some areas for improvement, things we need to get better on. I came to workouts this morning and it definitely strengthened what I saw in the Yorktown game, and in the film I’ve watched of their other games. These kids give outstanding effort in everything they do, which is really easy to work with. That’s something that you can mold around. If you’ve got great effort, you can do a lot of good things.
Q: The winner of New Palestine’s 4A sectional in each of the last four years has gone on to lose badly to Indianapolis Cathedral in the regional. Although Cathedral, which went on to win the 4A state championship, will be in Class 5A next season, traditionally strong (and state champion) Chatard is moving up from 3A to 4A. And, in general, private schools have dominated Indiana high school football in recent years. Can a public school such as New Palestine compete beyond the sectional level with private-school programs?
A: I think it’s definitely possible. Ohio’s a lot of the same thing. The Catholic schools are really strong, and then you occasionally have the public schools that step up and can really compete. The thing about it, though, it’s usually the same public schools, because they’ve got that entrenched tradition in their program where the kids understand the expectations, they understand what it takes. And I think that’s the thing here at New Pal, it’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment period, but I think we can compete. And they have competed for years on that kind of a level, but getting over that hump, it just takes a little bit extra work.
Those Catholic school teams, especially ones like Cathedral and Chatard, have really strong traditions as far as football’s concerned. And if you’re going to compete with teams like that, you’ve got to match that or you’ve got to supersede that. So that’s going to be one of the things here; we’ve got to really get the football culture and football tradition here to be on that level or better. And I think it’s definitely doable. It’s not easy, but it’s something that we can definitely accomplish.
Q: Coach Hill, as defensive coordinator before he was interim head coach, and offensive coordinator Jeremy Large have been with the New Palestine program for several years. Do you anticipate that they will be on your coaching staff, along with the other current assistants?
A: Yes. I’m going to talk with the coaches here in the next few weeks before February rolls around and we’re going to start the offseason lifting program that I want to put in place. So before we get into that I’m going to sit down with the staff members as a whole, and then individually, and talk with them. But as of right now, as far as I know, everybody wants to come back and be part of the program, and I’m more than willing have them be part of that.
A lot of these guys aren’t teachers, so it’s really a difficult situation. And if they’re willing to give up their free time, I know they’re passionate about what they do. And that’s all I ask for of my coaches, is be passionate about the kids and the sport and we can figure out the rest of it, as far as technique’s concerned. Anybody can learn that.
Q: You were offensive coordinator at Withrow. Will you call your own plays at New Palestine, or will coach Large continue in that capacity?
A: We’re going to work through that a little bit. I know coach Large has been calling the plays here for quite a while now. Having been an offensive coordinator and a run game coordinator myself, it’s something that I’m very used to doing. It’s just something that we’re going to have to feel out. I’m going to talk to him about that process, but I would probably say that if I’m not calling the plays, I would have a very large interest vested in what goes on with the offense. So one way or the other, yeah I’ll be very involved in the play calling, even if I’m not going to call it, per say.
Q: What type of offense can fans expect?
A: We are going to be a spread, no-huddle power offense. It’s something very similar to what teams like Ohio State are doing, a little bit of what Indiana is doing right now with Kevin Wilson down there, who brought it up from Oklahoma. We’re going to open the field up, but that does not mean that we’re going to be a throw-the-ball-50-times-a-game type team. We are going to establish the run, but from spread formations. We’ll open the field up and get people out of the box.
Q: You’re the Dragons’ third head coach in the last eight months. Are you here for the long haul?
A: I’d love to be here until I die. That would be the ultimate goal. I’ve actually talked to coach (Marvin) Shepler throughout the interview process. And he was the head coach here for many, many years and was very successful until he decided to retire from coaching. Ideally, this will be the last coaching stop I ever make and the last town I ever live in. I think that it’s a great community, a place to raise a family, it’s a place to stay. I love it here, so if the job takes me 30, 35 years until I retire, that would be great. I would love for this to be last of it.
Q: A former school record holder in the shot put at St. Xavier High School in Ohio, you later returned to your alma mater and helped coach the throwers on the track and field team. And you did the same thing at Withrow. Will you be assisting the New Palestine track and field team?
A: I’m going to do the throws here, the boys and girls throws. I’ve been lucky to have some great kids and some good athletes in track, so that’s something that I did in high school and have a passion for. It’s just one of those things to get kids involved in something and keep them competitive. The one thing that’s great about throws, and track in general, is there is no gray area. You’re either this fast or that fast. Or you can throw it this far or that far. It’s very black and white, so it really brings out the competitive side of kids when there’s something measurable that you can say, ‘I’m this far away from somebody.’ I’m a really competitive person, so as a coach it brings out the really competitive side in me, as well.
Q: In your talk with your new players (Wednesday) morning, you spent more time focused on the importance of education, good character and on “winning the day” than you did on football. Is it fair to say that you will stress values that go beyond football-playing ability?
A: There’s no question about that. To me, the diploma you get from here and the degree you get from college, those pieces of paper and the experiences in those places are going to carry you further than this game’s ever going to. And I think that I’m a testament to that, because even though I was blessed with some talent to be able to play the game of football, I’m not in the NFL right now. And I’m doing something that I love, working with kids and teaching kids in the classroom.
I’m a big believer that what you learn in the classroom is going to provide you with a living. More than ninety-nine percent of America doesn’t get to play professional sports, so unless you’re one of that lucky small percentage, you need to have education as your backbone of what you do. And I think that success in football comes with that. I think if you’re a model kid in the classroom and a great son at home and you do things the right way, you’re going to be just fine on the football field. Compared to what some of these kids go through in life, playing 70 snaps in a football game is nothing.
ABOUT KYLE RALPH
Family: Wife, Ashley (Buses) Ralph; son, Kaeden, will be three in March. The couple is expecting a daughter in February.
5th head coach in New Palestine football history
>> Marvin Shepler 1968-2001
>> Doug Armstrong 2002-08
>> Tim Able 2009-11
>> Charlie Hill 2012
Teaching area: Social studies
High school: Cincinnati, St. Xavier (2002)
>> 1st team All-Midwest, All-State, All-Region, All-City, All-Conference
>> Competed in football and track & field
College: North Carolina (2006)
>> Two-time First-Team All-ACC offensive lineman
Professional: NFL training camp, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers
>> Withrow University High School, Cincinnati, 2010-12
Offensive line coach/offensive coordinator;
2011: 7-3, 6-0 Cincinnati Metro Athletic Conference;
2010: 7-3, 5-1 Cincinnati Metro Athletic Conference
>> Oak Hills (Ohio) High School. 2008-10.
Offensive line coach and running game coordinator
>> St. Xavier, 2007
>> Track and field shot put/discus coach at St. Xavier (2007-11) and Withrow (2012).