Ball State football coach Pete Lembo isn't ready to go on record and give a prediction for his Cardinal team in terms of wins and losses for this season. However, one thing that the second-year coach will confidently state is that his team is better than it was a year ago.
Lembo released his initial depth chart on Wednesday and the coach was so giddy with excitement it was almost palpable.
“We have more competition for playing time this year than last year,” Lembo said. “Practices are more physical and (player) 1 through (player) 104, this is a better group.”
When Lembo came to Muncie, the Cardinal program had dealt with too many players leaving the program in Lembo's opinion, and the result were holes in the classes, which resulted in a disparity of competition at many positions. The former Elon University and Lehigh University coach took steps to alleviate those concerns and this year's depth is evidence of that.
“The competition is a result of good retention,” Lembo explained, “a result of redshirting a lot of the freshmen, some transfers becoming eligible, and a result of a good group of walk-ons quite frankly.”
To better ensure that the Cardinal student-athletes had a successful career in Muncie, Lembo began to bring the freshmen in during the month of June, so that they had several weeks to get acclimated to classes and football conditioning, as opposed to bringing them in for training camp in August. The result has been players that are already used to the rigors of college life before the initial day of training camp and their first day of fall classes.
One of the players that Lembo cited was redshirt freshman Horactio Banks. The Chicago native has benefited tremendously from spending a couple of summers on campus, as well as a year of developing emotionally and physically, so that now, he can be relied upon when the Cardinals face Eastern Michigan on Aug. 30 to open the season at Schuemann Stadium.
“Forget being ready to play Division I football,” Lembo said. “Horactio wasn't ready a year ago to be a college student. Now he has earned everyone's trust and he's done that by showing up every day and working hard in practice.”
Banks is penciled in as one of three back-up running backs along with Snider High School graduate Barrington Scott and University of Tennessee transfer Toney Williams behind starter Jahwan Edwards, who is another player deserving of praise according to the coach.
“Jahwan is 12 pounds lighter than he was (as a true freshman),” Lembo said. “He is in better shape and he's a more sophisticated player. He knows that he has to be in great shape because he has all of these guys battling him in practice every day. That is a great problem to have.”
Lembo is practicing the same philosophies off of the field that he did at Elon and Lehigh, where he tried to keep the same coaching staff annually and he set high expectations for every one in all that they do. Those mantras are seemingly working at the Division I level also.
“If we can stick to the plan of staff continuity and creating a positive culture throughout the Fisher (Football) Complex and retaining players, we can be successful,” Lembo said. “That is what I saw happen at two other places and it can happen here.”
Ball State football coach Pete Lembo released his initial depth chart on Wednesday. Here is a look at how the competition in training camp has unfolded thus far.
Tackle - Austin Holtz, Matthew Page
Guard - Kitt O'Brien, Jalen Schlachter
Center - Dan Manick, Jacob Richard
Guard - Jordan Hansel, Chris Sparrow
Tackle - Cam Lowry, Matthew Page
TE - Zane Fakes, David Schneider or Dylan Curry
WR (X) - Willie Snead, Jordan Williams or Jacolby Owens
WR (Z) - Jamil Smith, Jack Tomlinson
WR (W) - Conner Ryan, Chris Shillings or KeVonn Mabon
RB - Jahwan Edwards, Horactio Banks or Barrington Scott
QB - Keith Wenning, Kelly Page
DE - Nick Miles, Keenan Noel
DT - Nathan Ollie, Joel Cox
NG - Donovan Jarrett, Brandon Newman
DE - Jonathan Newsome, Michael Ayers
WLB - Tony Martin, Justin Cruz
MLB - Travis Freeman, Trent Toothman
SLB - Kenneth Lee, Julian Boyd
CB - Jeffrey Garrett, Eric Patterson
FS - Chris Pauling or Jarrett Swaby, Christopher Calloway
SS - Brian Jones, J.C. Wade
CB - Jason Pinkston, Armand dehaney or Andre Dawson
PK - Steven Schott, Scott Secor
P - Scott Kovanda, Scott Secor
H - Scott Kovanda, Conner Ryan
PR - Jamil Smith, Jack Tomlinson
KR - Jamil Smith, Armand Dehaney