As the education of Brandon Newman continues at Ball State University, the evolution of Newman is ongoing on the football field for the Cardinals.
The Notre Dame graduate spent four years in South Bend doing a lot of work in the weight room and on the practice field during the week and a lot of standing and watching on the sidelines on Saturday.
He's now in Muncie making up for lost time.
“Brandon didn't get a chance to play that much in his Notre Dame career,” Ball State coach Pete Lembo explained. “And he is really enjoying this opportunity to play a lot and make an impact.”
After graduating last spring, Newman transferred to Ball State for his final season of eligibility, enrolled in graduate school, and has slowly indoctrinated himself into the starting lineup at nose tackle for the Cardinals (4-3, 2-2 Mid-American Conference).
“Brandon has really gotten better and better every week,” Lembo said. “If you follow the depth chart closely, he started off the year (second string), then by the third or fourth game he was a co-starter, and now he is the starter.”
Indeed, Newman came off of the bench until two weeks ago, and he made his initial college start against Northern Illinois. Lembo had Newman start again last Saturday against Western Michigan and he is listed as the top nose tackle again for this week's game at Central Michigan (3:30 p.m. Saturday ESPN3).
“That is purely because he keeps getting better every week,” Lembo said. “That's good to see.”
Newman has registered 13 total tackles, including seven solo tackles. He has also contributed 2.5 tackles for a loss, had a quarterback hurry and even intercepted a pass at Kent State. All of this development on the part of Newman had to happen fast because he was not able to participate in spring practice for the Cardinals, so his first on-field work began in August.
“Neither of those guys were here for spring practice,” Lembo said of Newman and fellow fifth-year transfer and starting free safety Jarrett Swaby. “Pre-season was their first taste of learning our defense. You are starting to see both of those guys, here in the last two or three weeks, playing better, playing more, and being more productive.”
When Lembo was approached by Newman last spring about possibly joining the program, the second-year Cardinals coach wasn't sure what impact on the field Newman the player could make, but he was positive of how much he liked Newman the person.
“The minute that I met Newman I knew that he was going to be a special guy,” Lembo said. “His personality is off the charts and he is just so charismatic. Now that he is playing more, he's bringing a lot of that personality to the defense.”
Ball State has several transfers making significant contributions in addition to Newman and Swaby. Defensive end Jonathan Newsome (Ohio State) and linebacker Kenneth Lee (Saint Joseph's College) have also made their presence felt (57 combined tackles) in their first season of playing for Ball State.
Lembo explained that it is every bit as important to make a judgment of transfers off of the field prior to allowing them to join your program, as to be concerned with what they bring to your team on Saturdays.
“The key with transfers is that you do your research and you feel good about them as people and what their personalities are going to be like in the locker room,” Lembo said. “Because those things can backfire on you too, if you bring in the wrong guys. If Brandon was a totally different kind of kid, the opposite could happen and you'd sitting here and saying 'Gosh, I can't wait until this guy graduates,' because he is a distraction in the locker room.”
Lembo admits to feeling frustration that he has had just one season to work with Newman, but he is nonetheless glad that the two found each other.
“You know that Brandon is going to be with you for just one year,” Lembo said. “You hope that it is going to be a great year. It is going to be a year that benefits him and his experience as a student-athlete, but also benefits the defense and the program. I don't think that you can argue that that is exactly how it is playing out with Brandon.”