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HHF / GID Interview with New Palestine Head Coach Kyle Ralph

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HHF Interview with New Palestine Head Coach Kyle Ralph
New Pal doesnt rebuild, they simply reload. A 2020 sectional exit left a bitter taste in the mouth of these hungry Dragons. Look for a big bounce back year under Coach Ralph and his outstanding staff.
Coach , thanks for visiting with us at Hoosier High School Football.
Question 1
You've had a good look at your team through summer drills and 7 on 7 competitions over the past two months. What are your observations as you head into the final month of preparations before the season opens, where do you see this team's strengths, and what areas are deficient and need improvement?
I think we have made a lot of growth over summer.We are still a really young team despite returning a lot from last season - which just goes to show how young we were last year too. Our goal for our kids was to get better every day, understand as young kids this isn't an overnight process, we need to accept the daily challenges and by the end of the summer session show noticeable improvement in the things we have been coaching. We have done that in my opinion but we still have a lot of work to do. I think the strengths of this team are what most of our years have been - effort, coachability and family. They really like each other, give tremendous effort every day and take coaching well. It is going to be critical to our success. Obviously a huge negative is no experience is like game experience. We have so much youth that is going to be on the field for us this season in so many different roles that they just need game reps under their belt. Sadly, we don't get time to grow up as we take on very good Decaur Central and Brebeuf programs Week 1 and Week 2.
Question 2
The 2020 season ended in uncharacteristic fashion for New Pal, as your team lost its stranglehold on the Hoosier Heritage Conference Championship and took a first round loss in the sectional to Whiteland. Your kids have known nothing but huge success over the past 8 years since your arrival. How has the team responded to the early postseason exit and what, if any impact has that had on their 2021 summer preparation?
We made our 7th sectional championship game in 8 years which is pretty incredible. Whiteland beat us at their place in the title game. Considering 6 of those 8 have been in a division above where we belong it's even more impressive. We lost the rail and the HHC title to the #1 ranked team at the time in 4A which also hurt. The good thing was, despite all the issues we had last season behind the scenes, with Covid, with injuries we still found a way to compete. We had a lot of blown chances in the HHC loss to potentially win that game. Whiteland I don't know what else we could have done at that stage of our season to compete with them, they were a really good football team and I think beat us handily 9 times out of 10. You are right, winning - and winning championships of some kind - has become just "what we do" at New Pal in my 8 years. Last year is the first time we ever went home with nothing. I think that left a very sour taste in our kids mouths. Sometimes losing is a good thing, it's a wake up call. Our young group is hungry to return to the caliber of program we are accustomed to being and they understand that just because you put on a Dragon helmet and uniform doesn't mean you win on a Friday night. You earn wins. You get wins by playing as a team, selling out for each other, doing the right things all the time. Sometimes it is easier to learn from losing or hardships than it is from winning.
Question 3
New Pal will again compete in Class 5A this year due to the Success Factor promotion coming off of your state title runs in previous seasons. What are your thoughts on the SF, and do you believe it is a good tool for the IHSAA to use to maintain competitive balance in the postseason tournament?
I don't know how much the SF has really impacted what it was intended to impact. Those choices are way above my pay grade but as far as I know we are now the longest current public school above a division where we belong. We just seem to keep hitting the cycles right where we get "punished" for 2 years because of some good classes. Maybe the sample size should broaden because 2 years isn't really "success" in some people's eyes but all in all I guess it is serving it's purpose. This will be year 7 in a row. We are proud of that. Believe me it is a huge motivating piece for my program. We know we are the smallest public school, we know we have a roster smaller than essentially anyone we are going to play in the tourney. We have found a way to maintain success and that is great. It's improbable for a 4A public our size to compete year in and year out - we all ride the talent wave in public school where you are up some and down some - but we have for sure proven it isn't impossible.
Question 4
Your program is known to be heavily reliant on weight training and strength development, which has clearly set New Pal apart from its competitors since your arrival on campus. What are the core elements of your program, do you have a dedicated strength and conditioning coach, and how would you describe New Pals facilities as compared to those seen at other Central Indiana football powers in The MIC and The Hoosier Crossroads?
Our core elements are dependent on the athlete. You show up every day, you work as hard as you can, you go home. There really isn't a secret to success. There are a million ways to train. How you train is the key. We talk to our kids about nutrition, rest, recovery all those things too. I am the strength coach - I run the weight room during the school day too - but I also run the entire football program after school. One of the key things we tell the kids is it's their job to be the hardest worker in the room, you get a lot of guys competing for that "title" and you end up with a pretty special environment. We also do a ton of competitive stuff to force the kids into situations where we want to see them press their absolute limits and find out who will be a quitter and who will give until they can't give any more. We just got a new weight room this year and it is great. Much more functional, much more practical. I love it. However, like I tell everyone, we got a ton out of the old one too and it wasn't anywhere near as large or as nice. Again, the weight room is about what you do in there not what you have. You can have a palace and be lazy and not get stronger. You can have a dungeon and lift like an animal and become an animal. It's not about what we have compared to other schools that separates us it's how our kids attack what we do that does.
Question 5
Your team experienced its first conference loss in 9 years last season, losing to Mt Vernon 35-22 in Week 3. Despite that loss, NP has completely dominated the Hoosier Heritage since your arrival. It has been suggested that New Pal has simply outgrown the HHC and that the school should look for a new conference home where it can find stiffer regular season competition. Several of the HHC schools are struggling with low numbers and are finding it more difficult to be competitive in the conference. What are your general overall thoughts on the HCC, and do you feel the conference schedule does all it can do to prep your team for postseason play?
A lot of people bring the "too good" or "out grown" thing up to me but the reality is when I got here New Pal was the 3rd smallest school in the conference (out of 😎. Only Yorktown and Delta were smaller - and Delta has some amazing years in there where they dominated. I think now depending on the counts we are still 4th or 5th largest in the conference. I think a lot of people don't understand that. We aren't a 2000 kids 5A school winning over 4A schools. We have 1175 kids. 3 schools in our conference are floating right around 1500 students. What we have been able to accomplish is even more special to our community because they know and understand that. We are doing more with less. Our rosters usually top out at 50-55 kids...some years 45 total from 10-12. Our numbers aren't great by any standard we just try to get a lot out of what we have and we have been able to do that. We have had some great players, I have a great staff and our kids grow up in our youth program dying to be Dragons. It makes a big difference. I think the HHC is a great conference with exceptional coaching. Look at the record of success of our schools since I have been here - Shelbyville in my first 5 years or so with Coach Parks was almost always a top 5 ranked matchup and 2 unbeaten teams. They just never could get over the playoff hurdle of East Central or Columbus East. Yorktown had multiple D1 kids and was in back to back Regional Championships. Delta has played in the Regional twice. Pendleton has been in sectional championships. New Castle has played in a sectional championship and had the nations top passing offense under Coach York for one season. Mt. Vernon has played in a regional and semi-state in recent years. Our conference is very highly respected and has had tremendous success. The other nice thing is along with great coaching those teams always play us hard. There isn't any arrogance in saying this. When you have a streak like we did EVERYONE wants to be the team to end it. We took every teams best shot. It made is better without question. Obviously that has prepped us because we have made some great post-season runs. I think our conference is great for us especially when you have to look at the fact decisions aren't made just off one sport. The HHC fits our athletics program as a whole very well.
Question 6
Your program has been blessed with a lot of talent over the past several years, with quite a few kids moving on with scholarships to play at the next level. Who are your key kids coming back this season that will be game breakers and difference makers for the The Dragons in 2021?
We are certainly blessed. We have had some tremendous players come through. Again, one thing a lot of people don't know is when Kyle King (2019 - Defensive End) got his offers he was the first New Palestine football player to be offered in 20 years - since Todd Yoder. We aren't a factory here. We get a lot out of our boys, they give us a lot, we are proud of them. But we don't churn out prospects like people believe. Our community is growing - we are in the middle of the previous boom from years ago - so we have a few more kids now and with that come better odds. Right now our top recruit is OL/DL Luke Burgess who is 6'8" 280. He holds multiple Power 5 offers. I think 2024 OL Ian Moore will be right behind him at 6'5" 290 he will follow right in those footsteps. Outside of those potential D1 kids we bring back a host of players that may fall between D1AA-D3 which is a great thing.
Question 7
The New Palestine community really gets out and supports its high school sports teams, and your football squad has one of the most fervent followings in the state . Clearly, your success is the cornerstone for that support, but what is it about the NP community that gets it so fired up about this football team?
I heard a long time ago from a tremendous coach in Ohio that, "A good football season means a good school year." I tell you what, that couldn't be more true. Football is the first major sport to open in fall, school is abuzz with a new year, and there is always excitement, When we are good, all that just seems to be a catalyst for what you see on Friday's. Our whole town is there. It is amazing. What is better to do in small town Indiana on a Friday night than go watch your team play? I think a big part of it goes back to our youth program. I invest a lot in it, my son plays in it, our NPCFL board has been tremendous in making that league the best you're going to find. We have 250+ kids playing K-6 this year and another 80+ in the Junior High. When you get those numbers and those kids are excited about, feel passionate and connected to the high school program they WANT to be there on a Friday to watch too and so their parents bring them and are involved too. Let's be real though, everyone loves a winner. We have been fortunate enough to win a lot. If we were 0-10 every year I doubt Dragon Nation would be there to watch like they do. So, the winning helps but our community is second to none when it comes to supporting our football. We have made New Palestine a football town and I am very proud of that.
Question 8
Pound for Pound, it's been stated that you have the best football program in the state of Indiana. It would be hard to argue that point after your 28-0 run in 2018-2019, with two state championships and big wins over Center Grove and Cathedral. How challenging is it to maintain that level of excellence and commitment from your student athletes, staff, administration and from your loyal community following?
I think if you read and infer from everything I said above it's very hard. I think in 2019 when the 1175 student New Palestine got ranked #1 in the state for all divisions that really put us on the map. In 2014 we won the first title and got nationally ranked for the first time ever. In 2018 we were nationally ranked and finished 2nd in Indiana. In 2019 though we knew we had something special and knew if we took care of business we had a chance to lay claim to being the absolute best which is what our kids work for. Each year "best" is different but that team knew it had the potential to be literally "the best". The thing is though, every season is different. We have different goals. Our version of best has to differ. As much as we want to be a state champion every year that is an end game goal. We have LOTS of little things we need to do first before we can check that box. I think there are some exceptional schools out there that don't get some of the recognition we do but are accomplishing amazing things. Western Boone comes to mind as they get ready to hit their first success factor this year. Pioneer had a great run and is now in success factor mode. We will see how it goes for them, they do a great job. Maintaining that success above where you belong is the hardest part. When the playing field is "even" things don't feel as critical at times. When we know we are deficient in spots and lack the resources and depth larger schools do it makes everything we do much more critical and put under a microscope. That is the hard part. Everything has to be scrutinized and for a lot of coaches and players that isn't easy. That being said I have an amazing wife that supports what I do, my staff is exceptional and understands the demands they are under, and my administration is absolutely second to none.
Question 9
Coach, every time a big 6A job in Indy opens up, your name is the first mentioned. Some people have suggested that you might be interested in coaching at the college level someday. You have had such a run of complete dominance at New Pal (96-6 over 8 seasons) that some might suggest that the challenge at a 4A-5A is no longer sufficient to whet your competitive appetite. Do you have any desire to step up into a 6A head coaching position, or possibly jump to the college ranks as an assistant or a coordinator with an eye on becoming a college head coach?
I was taught a long time ago to be happy where your feet are. There is always a challenge. I love New Palestine and what we have built here. I am not going to be one of those coaches who says "never" to anything because you just don't know what life will offer you or how things will go. The future will take care of itself in time. Right now, I am beyond happy to still be a Dragon, still be coaching the sport I love, with a tremendous group of hungry young players I care about in a community that is die-hard for football. Where my feet are can't be any better than that.
Thanks Coach and best of luck to you and your team this season.
Tim Phillips
Hoosier High School Football

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"Maybe the sample size should broaden because 2 years isn't really "success" in some people's eyes."

For some programs, a two year run could just be a fluke, then the class underneath gets punished as he stated. You know you have a program when you sustain success for four consecutive years. I'm in favor of realigning every four years instead of two.  

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