You can only imagine Jennifer Lembo's surprise when she walks into her Yorktown home, sees her family gathered around the dinner table, and there are four children instead of just daughters Sophia and Victoria and son A.J.
The addition of a 6-foot-3, 208-pound man-child, who goes by the name of KeVonn Mabon, is always a possibility for the wife of Ball State football coach Pete Lembo.
Ball State (4-3, 2-2 Mid-American Conference) will travel to Central Michigan (2-4, 0-2) for a game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN3).
Mabon has made quite the impression on the second-year Cardinals coach, both on the field and off it, and Lembo didn't mince words when recently asked to talk about the first-year wide receiver.
“I'll tell you how strongly that I feel about KeVonn as a kid,” Lembo said. “I would adopt him and let him sleep in my basement.”
When Lembo and his coaching staff arrived in Muncie nearly two years ago, he found a lot of talented wide receivers, but they all looked alike. There was Briggs Orsbon (6-foot), Torieal Gibson (5-foot-9), Jack Tomlinson (5-foot-9), Conner Ryan (6-foot-1) and Jamill Smith (5-foot-8). Lembo and the Cardinals offensive coordinator immediately went to work to find players who not only had speed and could catch the ball, but also had a little more stature.
Their initial recruit (5-foot-11 Willie Snead) wasn't any different, but after signing Snead, Mabon and the rest of the young receiving corps (6-1 Chris Shillings, 6-4 Trey Gardner, 6-3 Aaron Hepp, 6-3 Jacolby Owens, 6-3 Efe Scott-Emuakpor and 6-2 Jordan Williams) each fit the mold that the Ball State staff wanted. And none has made the transition to college football as smoothly as Mabon.
“KeVonn is phenomenal,” Lembo said. “He's one of the best leaders we have in our freshman class. He's mature and conscientious.”
Lembo has said repeatedly that he wishes to redshirt as many freshmen as possible to build depth, experience and strength in the program. However, he has also made it clear to recruits that the best players will be on the field – regardless of class. So after watching Mabon work in the summer and in training camp, Lembo was sold.
Mabon has played in six of the Cardinals' seven games and has hauled in six passes, including a 44-yarder against Northern Illinois.
“KeVonn is super-appreciative of the opportunity that he has here,” Lembo said. “He's very focused in practice. He challenges himself every day. He takes coaching (and) you can coach him hard.”
With veterans like Ryan, Snead and Smith, as well as tight end Zane Fakes in front of him, it is difficult for others like Mabon to find a prominent role in the Cardinals' passing attack. However, the St. Louis native is slowly finding his way onto the radar of quarterback Keith Wenning.
“KeVonn is starting to make some plays for us,” Lembo said.
“He's a special guy,” Lembo said. “He gets better every day, and that is why he is playing more on Saturdays.”
Mabon's drive isn't limited to just wanting to make the spectacular and crowd-pleasing grab on offense. According to his coach, Mabon works hard even when the spotlight isn't on him.
“KeVonn is the first guy down on kickoff coverage,” Lembo said. “He's 5, 6 (or) 7 yards ahead of everybody else. Our concern is that (opponents) are going to start identifying him and start looking to double-team him.”
Mabon's ability to bolster an already strong group is part of Lembo's master plan for building a Mid-American Conference contender.
“KeVonn is going to continue to play,” Lembo said. “That's what you want, you want depth. You want to be able to rotate guys through.”
Two weeks ago, Northern Illinois had many players get repetitions against the Cardinals according to Lembo, and that depth played a critical role in the Huskies scoring 21 unanswered points in a comfortable win (35-23) in Muncie.
“There was very little drop-off from the one to the two to the three (spots),” Lembo said. “That is where we would like to get to.”
The Cardinals roster is set up for future success. From the quarterback to the running backs and those receivers, none of the major contributors for Ball State will graduate after this season.
“You look at the offensive skill positions and all of these guys are back,” Lembo said. “They are all underclassmen. It's really exciting to look at where we will be in terms of experience and depth.”