Another Neligh: Zach paving his own path

Written By: Alex Cotterman // Sports Editor
Taking over for a football legend at any position is hard. Taking over for a legendary quarterback is even harder.

Sometimes it works. Think Aaron Rodgers after Brett Favre. Think Andrew Luck after Peyton Manning. Sometimes it leads to catastrophic failure. The Buffalo Bills have yet to win a playoff game following Hall of Famer Jim Kelly’s retirement in 1996. It’s somehow even harder when that legendary quarterback is your brother. Junior Zach Neligh, however, has not only taken over the starting quarterback gig two years after his brother Alex’s graduation, he has thrived at it.

The two brothers, three years apart, share the same jersey number and position. On the field, the two are almost indistinguishable apart from Zach’s left handed passing motion. Make no mistake though, Zach and Alex are their own people.

“There’s some similarities, but at the end of the day they are different people. They play different, they act different, they behave different and that’s a good thing. Zach’s his own person and I think that’s why he’s a good quarterback,” Dragons’ head coach Kyle Ralph said.

Alex Neligh is New Palestine’s most prolific quarterback of all time. Alex passed for a school record 5,374 yards and 64 touchdowns during his time at New Pal. He also added 3,344 rushing yards and another 56 touchdowns on the ground. During his two years as a starter he guided the Dragons to a 28-1 record two conference, sectional, regional and semi-state championships, as well as capturing New Palestine’s first ever state title. In 2015, Alex Neligh was the runner-up for Indiana’s Mr. Football award.

Obviously, Zach had some big shoes to fill. So far, he’s done his best. Through ten games, Neligh has thrown for 1,742 yards and has also rushed for another 1,068 yards. Neligh is just the third quarterback in Dragons history to record a 1,000-1,000 season, along with Blake Luker (2013) and Zach’s older brother Alex (2014-15).

Zach’s athleticism has been apparent from his first game as a starter. Neligh ran for 222 yards and two touchdowns in the Dra gons’ 19-8 road win over Whiteland in week one. The passing however, needed some time to develop. Through the first five games of the season, Neligh only had 648 passing yards along with six touchdowns and four interceptions, while only completing 55 percent of his passes.

“All of our quarterbacks have had struggles early in their career, so that wasn’t really a surprise to us. But you want to see your quarterback mature over the course of a season and have that improvement as far as decision making and being comfortable with the offense and having the right expectation level and all of the things that come along with that. I think he’s definitely grown as the year has gone on and it’s been a big reason why we’ve been so successful,” Ralph said.

The 6-foot one junior has come around in the back half of the season throwing for 1,094 yards and 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions over the back half of the season. He’s also been more efficient over the second half of the year, completing 61 percent of his passes over the last five games.

To what does Neligh credit his second half turnaround: “Coaching and learning from my own mistakes,” Neligh said.

Neligh led the Dragons to a 9-0 regular season mark and an unprecedented fifth consecutive, undefeated HHC title. Zach’s leadership has been a major part of their success.

“He’s a good leader. He’s a good nature leader. I think it’s important for a quarterback to have that attribute,” Ralph said.

Zach has piloted an offense averaging over 500 yards and 50 points per game. With all the hype surrounding Neligh and the no. 1 ranked Dragons’ number 11 has a simple goal.

“I’m just trying to do my own job and not be Alex. I’m trying to be Zach.”

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