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Offseason Football Update: New Palestine

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New Palestine, Ironman Challenge champs. Brian Harmon photo/Daily Reporter.
New Palestine, Ironman Challenge champs. Brian Harmon photo/Daily Reporter.

NEW PALESTINE — The New Palestine football team found the perfect gauge of its championship aspirations in the Class 4A semistate game late fast fall.

Unfortunately for the visiting Dragons, they came up well short of the mark in a 49-14 loss to Columbus East Nov. 22. The swift Olympians, led by junior running back Markell Jones, gave the previously 13-0 Dragons their lone setback – and a valuable lesson.

“Sometimes losing is necessary,” NP second-year coach Kyle Ralph said Saturday during the program’s Ironman Challenge weightlifting competition. “Even though I hate to lose and I don’t ever want to lose, sometimes it has to happen so that you really take a step back and say, ‘Okay, we got beat by a better team. What do we need to do to get to that level?’

“When you win …  you often don’t reevaluate things maybe as well as you probably should, just because what you’re doing is producing wins.”

The Dragons ran roughshod over conference and sectional competition in 2013 – the varsity unit allowed only two touchdowns all regular season and the squad captured three sectional games by a combined 148-40. But, after getting past Chatard 27-14 for the program’s first regional title since 1990, Columbus East educated the Dragons on what state-championship speed, strength and depth looks like. The following week, the Olympians edged Fort Wayne Dwenger 28-27 for the 4A title at Lucas Oil Stadium.

In the six months since the semistate loss, and three months from their 2014 season-opener, the Dragons believe they have closed the gap.

“We’ve done a great job on our speed work this offseason,” Ralph said. “We just ran 40s last week and our guys are significantly faster than last year … across the board. And our weight room strength is getting better.

“We’ve got to be able to physically matchup with those teams that are going to be bigger and deeper than what we are.”

Ralph, a former collegiate Division I lineman, has revamped the Dragons’ weight room program. A good squat for a football player two years ago was around 400 pounds, according to Ralph. Now, he said, numerous players are squatting over 500. Similar improvements have been made on the bench press.

“We’re way better,” Ralph said. “We’re setting new standards here.

“It’s all about increasing the numbers across the board as time goes on. And we’re going to see the dedication from these kids start playing dividends as the years go on.”

In the five-team Ironman Challenge, which featured squat, bench press and clean lifts, New Palestine won the title with 480 points, ahead of Lawrence North (392.5), Richmond (342.5), Roncalli (277.5) and New Castle (220.5).

Individual weight class winners for the Dragons were current juniors Sterling Curran, Gabe Estes, Trent Mahaney and Jeff Wilcher and sophomore Andrew Yazel. David Judy was the top freshman lifter for New Palestine, hitting 245 on clean, 275 on bench and a squat of 505 for over 1,000 total pounds. Several Dragons, including those who didn’t win their weight class, set personal bests.

Richmond lineman Nate Trawick, a junior who the Dragons will see in Week 2 this fall, also won an individual lifting title Saturday with a performance that included a 600-pound squat.

Among the Dragons’ winners, all were varsity offensive/defensive starters in 2013 except for Wilcher, the team’s Special Teams Player of the Year. A wide receiver and defensive back for the junior varsity squad last fall, Wilcher is one of several new weapons New Palestine will count on.

Three of the four wideouts who started for the Dragons against Columbus East, including record-setter Tyler Walden, will graduate next month.

“He did a tremendous job for us in kind of a hidden role (last season on special teams), but we’re really looking for him to do some great things this year,” Ralph said. “He’s a really dedicated kid. He never misses lifting. He’s done a great job to increase his speed, so he can play Friday Night Football. His weight room strength speaks for itself.”

“I’m really happy with him buying in and being a role player last year, which is what we need and what it’s all about, and hopefully this year he can earn a starting spot.”

One starting spot up for grabs is quarterback. Blake Luker set a program record for total offense as the Dragons’ signal-caller in 2013, and he’ll join Walden on the University of Indianapolis sideline for the 2014 campaign.

Among the Dragons hoping to inherit Luker’s spot are current junior Chaz Hill (five-foot-10, 170 pounds), sophomore Alex Neligh (6-1, 180) and freshman Gunnar Large (6-1, 145).

“It will be interesting,” Ralph said. “Those are three good, talented kids, and each one of them has some different stuff. Each one is a different body type. Each one has a different throwing style, velocity, speed, agility. They’re very different kids.

“I love when there’s no solid winner at a particular position. I think it’s important to have. And all the guys have bought into the fact that no starting job is solid. And I think our quarterback position is most up in the air, when you look at it.”

The high school book isn’t completely closed on Luker, Walden and a few of their fellow seniors, however.

Only July 18 at North Central, Luker will play in the Grange Insurance All-Star Football Classic, presented by the Indiana Football Coaches Association.

Walden and NP seniors Nolan Guedel (WR/DB) and Nick Buckhorn (OL/DL) will compete in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame East-West Classic June 20 at Anderson. Ralph was selected as head coach of the East team.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Ralph said. “I’ve coached in All-Star games before but not as a head coach. It’s always fun to coach some of the guys you’ve played against because you get to know those kids, you get to work with those kids, and usually you got some good deep talent.

“So it’s a lot of fun to get out there and get to know kids over a week and just let them play this great game. For some of them it will be the last time, so it should be a lot of fun.”


2014 New Palestine Schedule


Aug. 22 Danville {4A}  

Aug. 29 at Richmond {5A}  

Sep. 5 Yorktown {3A}‡ 

Sep. 12 at Mt. Vernon {4A}‡ 

Sep. 19 at Pendleton Heights {4A}‡ 

Sep. 26 Greenfield-Central {4A}‡  

Oct. 3 at Shelbyville {4A}‡  

Oct. 10 at New Castle {4A}‡  

Oct. 17 Delta {3A}‡

‡Hoosier Heritage Conference game

2014 regular season schedule notes:

* Scrimmage (Aug. 15) is vs. Scecina.

* New Hoosier Heritage Conference member New Castle (Week 8) replaces Whiteland (formerly Week 5).

* Weeks 3-9 are HHC games.

* Games that were moved on the schedule: Yorktown is now Week 3 (formerly Week 6); Mt. Vernon, Week 4 (formerly Week 9); Pendleton Heights, Week 5 (formerly Week 3); Greenfield-Central, Week 6 (formerly Week 8); and Delta, Week 9 (formerly Week 4).

* All games Friday evenings, 7/730 p.m.

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