MUNCIE – Jahwan Edwards has rushed for nearly 2,200 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first two seasons as Ball State's main threat at running back. So perhaps when it comes to kickoff returns, the Cardinal coaches might give him a breather, correct?
Sorry, not in this program.
Whereas, some college football programs shun from putting top-line players on their special teams, Ball State takes just the opposite approach.
“Everything in moderation,” Cardinals coach Pete Lembo said.
Lembo and his staff place an inordinate amount of emphasis on their special teams' units, which has made them one of the more dangerous teams in the Mid-American Conference in Lembo's first two seasons in Muncie.
“You never want a starter to be on all four (special team) units,” Lembo said. “But our guys know that there is going to be a unit or two that they are going to be involved with as either a starter or a backup.”
Edwards and his backup at running back will see time in returning kickoffs, while dynamic Cardinal wide receiver Willie Snead is currently returning punts in spring practice in place of injured regular Jamill Smith, who typically handles both kickoffs and punt return duties.
“I think it sends a great message to the team,” Lembo said, “when some of your best players are still playing on special teams. They are engaged in special teams meetings and that trickles down to the rest of the team to a younger guy, who maybe needs to start on three units.”
The Cardinals have been dominant in this facet of play since Lembo was hired. Last fall, Ball State ranked second in kickoff return average in the Mid-American Conference, while leading the league in punt returns. And there wasn't a team that had a better kicking duo than kicker Steven Schott and punter Scott Kovanda.
“We spend a lot of practice time on (special teams),” Lembo said. “That sends a great message to the team how important it is. And we're fortunate; Justin Lustig is a great special team's coordinator.”
Lustig has helped develop Smith (All-MAC punt returner each of last two seasons), Kovanda (Ray Guy finalist last season), and Schott (All-MAC last season). In fact, new punter Kyle Schmidt (a redshirt freshman) will have big shoes to fill next fall if he beats out Scott Secor (a redshirt junior) for the position. Lustig has coached an all-conference punter in four of the past five seasons.
“Justin is very detailed,” Lembo said. “He takes great ownership of all of the units and I try to be a good resource for him.”