It should say a lot about Alex Neligh that in his written submission for New Palestine’s top football team award, he didn’t even mention football.
The record-setting senior quarterback didn’t mention that he’s the school’s career leader in completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, total offense and total touchdowns. Or that he’s 28-0 as a starting quarterback. Or that he’s the only player in New Pal history to pass for 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
“Not one word about what he accomplished out here,” Dragons coach Kyle Ralph said this week, pointing at the New Pal football field.
The 6-2, 195-pound Neligh’s accomplishments on the field go on and on. He’s the engineer of the top-ranked New Pal machine that will put its 13-0 record on the line Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in the Class 5A state finals against Fort Wayne Snider (12-1).
Ralph admits he’s been dreading the end of the season in large part because it means it’ll be the last time he’ll coach Neligh. The 31-year-old coach and quarterback have developed a strong relationship that takes on various forms.
“I knew when I met him he’d be tough on me,” Neligh said. “He’s helped me out more than anything and not even just about football. I can go to him about anything. He’s almost like a parent to me.”
Few could have expected to Neligh to have this type of success when he took over as the starting quarterback at the beginning of his junior season. He played sparingly on New Pal’s 2013 team that lost to Columbus East in the Class 4A semistate, completing eight passes for the season. Neligh was the backup to Blake Luker, who graduated as New Pal’s all-time leader in total offense with 4,494 yards.
“It was fun having someone like (Luker) to study under,” Neligh said. “That helped me out more than I can describe.”
After the loss to Columbus East, Ralph told Neligh: “It’s your turn.” Neligh took it to heart. Ralph eased him into the starting role, knowing he could lean on senior running back James Young and an excellent defense.
As the wins mounted, so did Neligh’s confidence. It was on full display in New Palestine’s record-setting 77-42 win over New Prairie in last year’s Class 4A state championship game, hitting 13-for-15 passing for 211 yards and rushing for 178 yards and three touchdowns.
“Once we got into to the playoffs, we took the reins off,” Ralph said. “He’s just a machine. The state championship game was obviously one of the hallmarks of what we did last year.”
Ralph has high standards for Neligh, but he’s not his toughest critic. That role belongs to Neligh’s mother, Lisa.
“She tells me how it is,” Alex said. “She doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She’s brutally honest, but I’d rather have it that way than anything else.”
Ralph said much of the credit for Alex’s success, both as a player and a person, can be attributed to Lisa Neligh, a nurse at St. Vincent Hospital.
“She’s told me, ‘You rip him apart if he’s being too soft out there for you,’” Ralph said. “I’m like, ‘Your son just passed for 200 yards and ran for 150.’ She said, ‘Well, if he’s not giving you what you want, get on him.’”
Neligh has given New Pal fans all they’ve wanted and more this season, putting himself in the discussion for IndyStar Indiana Mr. Football honors. He increased his commitment in the weight room in the offseason, knowing he would have to carry more of the rushing load.
“I knew I’d have to be up there with (senior running back Nick Brickens) as the leading rusher,” Neligh said. “I work on the running back drills in practice. I learned from them as far as reading cuts and being cleaner in that part of my game.”
It’s hard to argue with the results. Neligh has rushed for 1,931 yards and 33 touchdowns and passed for 2,351 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior. His two interceptions both came on end-of-the-half Hail Mary situations. He has eclipsed Luker’s records for career total offense (8,051 yards), career total offense TDs (112), single-season total offense (4,282) and single-season total offense TDs (65).
Neligh doesn’t bring up these individual accomplishments.
“(Our success) is because we play as a family,” he said. “There’s a lot of trust on our whole team. We don’t care who gets the ball or how it happens. We trust that when you get the ball, you’re going to do your job and make something successful out of it.”
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.