FINAL RECORD: 3-7
+/- FROM 2011: -8 wins
JV RECORD: 7-1
FRESHMAN RECORD: 9-0
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Dragons, despite considerable obstacles (see below), performed their best in the season’s last game, a 40-21 sectional semifinal loss to Class 4A No. 4-ranked Mt. Vernon. The game was tied 21-21 at halftime, marking the first occasion MV had been challenged since a season-opening loss to 5A Kokomo.
New Palestine lost three other games by seven points or less and was mostly competitive throughout the season.
Forced into action, sophomore quarterback Chaz Hill showed promise, completing 24-of-44 attempts for 350 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions in four games.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The Dragons lost 15 starters to graduation from their No. 1-ranked 2011 team, and it showed. Throw in a last-minute coaching change and injuries at the running back and quarterback positions and you have a recipe for the program’s worst record in over 10 years.
Former head coach Tim Able resigned June 28 — one month before the start of official practice — and defensive coordinator Charlie Hill was named interim coach for the season.
Hill didn’t catch any breaks. His top two quarterbacks, Max Disman and then Blake Luker each suffered significant injuries, as did running back Matt Siergiej.
By the time the Dragons reached the postseason, Chaz Hill was at quarterback and seniors Collin Hill and Nick Survant, who had limited varsity experience prior to this season, were carrying the offensive load at running back.
“Charlie took over in a very difficult situation,” New Palestine athletic director Al Cooper said. “But, his message to the players from day one was always consistent. I think they learned a lot about football, and about important things other than football, which is something Charlie stressed.
“The players competed all the way to the end, which I think was evidenced by their sectional performance.”
2013: The Dragons’ first order of business is to hire a head coach. Cooper has been accepting applications, and he said interest is high in the position.
“Without knowing what other jobs will come up, I think our opening is one of the best jobs in the state,” he said. “With the school’s academic standing and the football program’s winning tradition, I think this is a very attractive job.”
Cooper would prefer the next head coach work in the school building. He anticipates that New Palestine teacher retirements will present possible openings for a future coach.
“We won’t rule anyone out based on if they’re in the building or not,” Cooper said. “We’ll choose the very best coach for what our situation is, and what openings we have available.
“But, ideally, your head coach is someone that is in your building.”
Hill, a lay coach, agreed with the sentiment.
“I think, big picture, that’s probably the right thing to do to have a teacher as a head coach,” said Hill, a longtime New Palestine assistant under Able and previously for Doug Armstrong. “You need someone who is around the kids all the time, can influence them, talk to them on a daily basis, keep them out of trouble. There’s just a thousand different things that are important to coaching that are enormously more difficult if you’re not in the school on a daily basis.”
Hill would like to return as a coordinator or assistant coach, but that will ultimately be decided by the new coach, Hill noted.
The next head coach will have plenty of talent to work with, especially in the next two-three years. New Palestine’s freshman team went 9-0 this year and the JV was 7-1.
Luker, a junior, will return, either at quarterback or at his pre-QB position in the defensive secondary.
All-Hoosier Heritage Conference linemen Sam Wright and Trevor Steele will be lost to graduation, along with Collin Hill and All-HHC Honorable Mentions Survant, Devan Furr (OL), Scott Lyons (WR) and Jackson Taylor (LB).
With the high turnover, this year’s freshmen and JV players will be thrust into starring roles next fall.
“I know the kids will be in the weight room, working hard,” Hill said. “They’re very eager to get back on the field, and there’s a collective positive attitude about what can be accomplished next year. Myself and the rest of the coaching staff will work with the kids this offseason to make sure the program remains in great shape for whoever the next head coach is.”
OF NOTE: The Dragons have replaced Rushville on their schedule with Danville. Whiteland will be moved from its traditional opening-week spot into Rushville’s former Week 5 spot. 4A New Palestine will open 2013 at 3A Danville, which went 7-3 this season. The Dragons will visit Whiteland in Week 5.
Danville and New Palestine have no common opponents, but Danville defeated Lebanon 21-20 this season, and Lebanon handled Greenfield-Central 34-14. New Pal beat G-C 47-7.