MUNCIE – During the 2010 football season, Ball State's leading passer, Keith Wenning, and receiver, Jack Tomlinson, both were one season removed from high school.
You can view that as a positive sign that the Cardinal football future is bright. Or you can be realistic and believe playing true freshmen at the Division I level is a recipe for disaster.
Pete Lembo falls into the latter category.
“If you are playing freshmen, you aren't winning,” said the first-year Ball State football coach. That resonates with Cardinal fans, who have seen 18 defeats in 24 games over the past two autumns.
Lembo studied marketing at Georgetown University, and that background has led him to develop a business model for his roster. He has created a spreadsheet that shows the areas of his roster that have gaps – or lack of depth, in football parlance.
As an example, Ball State entered this spring with a shortage of defensive ends. Ball State had fifth-year senior Andrew Puthoff available, but no other players in the senior or junior classes. Lembo's next available end was sophomore Matthew Mosley.
To alleviate the lack of class balance and depth, Lembo's staff has moved fifth-year senior linebacker Loren Womack and Ryan Hartke, along with redshirt sophomore Ethan Buckles, to that position.
“There was nobody (at the position),” Lembo said. “It went from Puthoff down to Mosley. Forget about good players; I'm just talking about (having) bodies.”
In previous years, player attrition has hit the Cardinals program hard. That loss of players – for whatever the reason – causes long-term problems. Lembo cited the senior class, which lost nine players out of 23 recruits.
“It kills your APR (Academic Progress Rate),” Lembo said. “And that's what forces you to play freshmen.”
Lembo hopes to implement a program philosophy in which most freshmen redshirt, which will aid them not only on the football field but academically and socially as well.
“When I speak with President (Jo Ann) Gora and (athletic director) Tom Collins about bringing the freshmen in early for summer school,” said Lembo, “that's a priority. We want to redshirt more freshmen every year; that's a priority. We want to do some of these internal, structural things differently.”
Lembo said it's imperative for his superiors to understand the problem that has evolved over recent seasons, and everyone who cares about the program should understand what he ultimately wants to build.
“To be honest, our donors, our season-ticket holders, our faculty, they all need to know (about) this,” Lembo said.
“Because when they go watch on a Saturday and they see a freshman out there playing, well, why is that? It may not be because he's the best guy. It may be because he is the only guy.”