There are probably few that look back upon the 2012 Ball State football season and think in negative terms. After all, the Cardinals won nine games and went to a bowl game. However, Connor Ryan is one of those that can’t get a handful of bad thoughts from escaping his head.
The senior wide receiver is immersed with his teammates in Feeley’s training program, and though he has pride in the nine victories and the berth in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, he uses the 38-17 bowl defeat to Central Florida, as well as losses at Kent State (45-43) and to Northern Illinois (35-23) to get him through the painful sessions.
“They are the best motivators for this team,” Ryan said. “Those three games in particular, (are) the best motivators we have just because of how close we really were. It’s that bad taste in your mouth.”
After a dismal pair of seasons in 2009 and 2010, Cardinal fans have embraced this current group of players for winning 15 games over the past two seasons and restoring pride at Schuemann Stadium. However, Ryan and his teammates are taking the approach that they have achieved nothing in 2013.
“Actually, it probably has been our best beginning of winter so far,” Ryan said. “The tempo that we are running at right now, the tempo of our lifts, of our runs, they have increased. Because we know what we are capable of from last year and we know that this is a different team.”
That attitude is pushing the Cardinals through training sessions that involve pulling weight sleds in 14-degree weather and pounding tractor tires with sledge hammers until their arms and legs burn and the players gasp for breath.
“We need to start all over fresh,” Ryan said. “We saw what it took (to get to nine wins), but obviously, it wasn’t enough.”
Northern Illinois won the Mid-American Conference West Division ahead of the Cardinals, and ultimately played in the Orange Bowl in Miami. That is the same Husky squad that Ball State had down 23-14 in the second half before blowing the lead.
Ryan remembers. And the fifth-year Cardinal thinks about that game before reading Feeley’s notes that has the day’s workout ending with something referred to as “Hell’s fire!”
“I was with some teammates,” Ryan said of watching Northern Illinois battling Florida State in the BCS bowl game. “That could’ve been us. We are doing whatever it takes now, if the MAC is in that position then we can get there.”
The Cardinals train five days per week and Feeley and his staff monitor their strength, weight, flexibility, amount of sleep, nutrition, and even making sure that each player drinks a gallon of water each day. Feeley is leaving nothing to chance for this upcoming season.
As the primal screams emanate through the Fisher Football Complex, Ryan, even being a wide receiver, prides himself in pushing his body as hard as one would think only the linemen or defensive players strive to do.
“A lot of our teammates are working hard,” Ryan explained. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be. It’s the whole team concept. If we are doing more weight and getting down and dirty, then they should too.”