NEW PALESTINE — Beasts in the weight room under second-year head coach Kyle Ralph, the New Palestine football team is rarely out-muscled.
Friday in Richmond, however, the Dragons will face at least one player who has proven to be every bit as physical as New Palestine’s biggest and strongest.
Class 4A No. 3 New Palestine (1-0) will take on Nate Trawick and the 5A No. 17 Red Devils (1-0) in a matchup of defending conference champions.
Trawick, a six-foot-1, 295 pound senior, is one of the state’s highest regarded defensive linemen. Offered by several Mid-American Conference schools, Trawick verbally committed to Miami (Ohio) in June.
“Nate Trawick is a special kid,” Richmond coach Matt Holeva said. “He’s a complete package. He works hard, team captain, has great grades. He’s a real pleasure to coach.”
Penciled in on the defensive side of the ball for Miami, Trawick is playing both ways for Richmond, which lost four of five starting offensive linemen from last season to graduation.
A few weeks before Trawick committed to Miami, he visited New Palestine High School with some of his Richmond football teammates for the Ironman Challenge, a weightlifting competition hosted by Ralph and the Dragons.
New Palestine finished with 480 points to beat several teams, including Richmond (342.5), for the team lifting title. The Dragons secured nearly every individual weight class title, as well – except for Trawick’s division. The Red Devils’ lineman put forth an effort that included a 600-pound squat.
“He’s a really good player, obviously, on both sides of the football,” Ralph said this week. “One of the best we’ll see all year, without question, as far as in the trenches is concerned.”
Ralph, a former standout lineman at North Carolina, said that Trawick will be accounted for in the Dragons’ gameplan, but the Richmond senior won’t be their sole focus.
“While one-on-one he’s a huge mismatch, we’re going to have to be able to win some one-on-one situations in order to be successful,” Ralph said. “You can’t always put two people on a player like that and then cripple the remainder of your offensive line in doing so.
“So, we’re going to have to count on our guys up front to really have a great week this week.”
The Dragons accounted for Trawick with success in this matchup a year ago, when New Palestine ran away with a 46-2 victory. So, as much as New Palestine is aware of Richmond’s standout, the Red Devils have plenty of their own concerns.
Holeva, whose team rushed for 234 yards in a 27-14 win over Connersville in Week 1, praised New Palestine as multi-dimensional.
Junior quarterback Alex Neligh, in his first year as the NP starter, threw for 185 yards and one score last week in a 61-0 blitz of Danville. Neligh also ran for 100 yards, while James Young and Sterling Curran accounted for 135 yards on the ground and five touchdowns in just 24 carries.
“They’re pretty explosive,” Holeva said. “I mean, in looking at their scrimmage and their game last week, they’re obviously not missing a beat.”
Holeva said Neligh wasn’t as polished yet as the QB he replaced – program passing record-holder Blake Luker.
“But they’re still very dynamic,” he noted. “That kid has stepped in and done a great job and has command of the offense.
“I just think they have so many weapons and they’re just such physical hard runners, that the kid’s a good enough quarterback that if you commit to the run, he’ll make you pay for it.”
The Red Devils likely can’t afford to give up many points. Not with the way in which the New Palestine defense is playing.
After pitching four shutouts in 2013 (plus the 2-point allowance to Richmond), the Red Rage looked just as angry Friday against Danville.
Linebackers Noah Grable and Joe Izbicki combined for 23 tackles, with Grable notching three sacks and Izbicki recording two sacks. Cornerback Chaz Hill had an interception. And the Dragons forced three fumbles, with linemen Michael Woodall and Trent Mahaney on recoveries.
Richmond’s run-based attack – led by senior tailback Parker Holland – won’t be enough this week, according to Holeva.
“Our passing game has not come along as far as we expected it to be at this point, so we’re working hard and kind of pressing that,” he said. “And if we’re going to have any type of success offensively against a tough New Pal team, we’re going to have to be able to throw the ball and run it. They’re just too good to do just one against them.”
The Red Devils are coming off a 7-3 season. They won five straight after losing to New Palestine in Week 2 last year and wrapped up their second straight North Central Conference title. In 2012, the 8-3 Red Devils snapped Kokomo’s five-year hold on the NCC crown.
Richmond is the lone 5A school on New Palestine’s docket this year. And, despite a three-game win streak against the Red Devils, the Dragons are on full alert as they head east on I-70.
“I know coach Holeva pretty well, and he’s a great guy and does a tremendous job with those kids, and they’ll all be well-prepared and well-disciplined,” Ralph said.
“They’ve got some great athletes, and they’ve got some big, big kids. It’s a scary combination of size and speed. There’s a whole lot you’ve got to be prepared for. If they get momentum going, they’re really dangerous.”
Richmond, likewise, is looking forward to the challenge of taking on the reigning Hoosier Heritage Conference champs. New Palestine ran the table in the HHC a year ago, then claimed sectional and regional titles.
Holeva said the Dragons are good preparation for a 5A Richmond sectional that now includes state powerhouse Indianapolis Cathedral.
“We’ve had some success in our conference … but we feel like this is a great opportunity for us and a good chance to gauge where we’re at,” he commented. “We get to test our mettle, so to speak, and see where we’re at among some of the better teams in the state.”