One thing that the players on Ball State's football team comprehend is the importance of “seizing an opportunity.”
That was the scenario that unfolded late Saturday night in Bloomington for this program, and Cardinals coach Pete Lembo talked extensively at Tuesday's news conference about the importance of “seizing an opportunity,” not just as a team, but individually as well.
Ball State (2-1) will host South Florida (2-1) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN3).
The Cardinals took over possession last Saturday against Indiana with just 49 seconds remaining in the game and trailing 39-38. But they were able to seize the opportunity and ultimately got a 42-yard field goal from Steven Schott to win 41-39.
That same mantra applies this week to the Ball State secondary.
Neither redshirt sophomore J.C. Wade nor sophomore Eric Patterson were listed as starters when this season began. However, just three games into the fall, both will be in the starting lineup against the Bulls.
“I can't say enough good things about J.C. Wade,” Lembo said. “He's taken advantage of the opportunities that he's gotten. That is something that you are always sharing with all of the guys on your team. When an opportunity presents itself, and you get a chance to get in there in practice or in a game, you've got to make it count.”
Since Lembo walked onto the Muncie campus he has been as focused on the competition within his own roster as much as competing against other teams. The more intense the competition, the better the team, and the wins will take care of themselves.
“It's a combination of promoting competition,” Lembo explained, “rewarding performance, and then also continuing to evaluate those guys to get our best people on the field.”
Wade has developed, albeit slowly, as a reliable free safety, and he'll team with strong safety Brian Jones. But Wade's growth on the field wasn't easily projected when Lembo was hired.
“If you look back at when (our coaching staff) first got here, I don't think that it was the easiest transition for him,” Lembo said. “Some guys it just takes a little bit longer for them to get comfortable. J.C. has really blossomed this year. He had a great year with (strength and conditioning coach) Dave Feeley in the weight room, and I think that he has really improved on the field.”
One defender who hasn't improved enough in the eyes of the coaches is senior Jason Pinkston. After starting the first two games of this season, he didn't play against Indiana, and Lembo feels that his future playing time lies in Pinkston's hands, not the coaches'.
“For Jason it is a little bit of adversity right now,” Lembo said. “It's something that perhaps he hasn't had to deal with here previously. But it is something that we try and prepare all of our guys for. It's part of life and it's part of football. It's going to be up to him to come out and practice well every day, and whether it be in practice or Saturday, if Jason gets an opportunity, he's got to seize that opportunity just like J.C. has done. It's going to be up to him to show us that he's got some fight in him to earn his job back.”