DETROIT – You couldn't blame Pete Lembo if he allowed his thoughts to drift toward the future and envision his Ball State football squad playing for a championship at Ford Field in early December.
You couldn't blame him, but he would find fault in himself for doing so.
Lembo recently sat high in the stadium, which will host the Mid-American Conference title game this season, during the league's media day festivities, but thinking about playing for a championship down on that field never entered his mind.
“I really don't think about (playing in the MAC championship game),” Lembo said. “If 12 years as a head coach has taught me anything, it's don't look too far down the road.”
The Cardinals open their 2013 training camp Wednesday (7:15 p.m. at Scheumann Stadium and it is open to the public free of charge) and that is as far as the third-year Cardinal coach will allow himself to go mentally for now.
“If you have a great preseason, you'll have a chance to beat Illinois State (in the Aug. 29 season opener),” Lembo said. “When that game is over, you have to have a great week of getting ready for the triple option of Army. And then from there, it's North Texas.”
That's an easy philosophy for an experienced coach to follow, but for the fans and media dreams of touchdowns and trophies are a lot more enticing to ponder.
Lembo opened a can of whoopee when he kicked off his Cardinal career with a season-opening win against Indiana in Lucas Oil Stadium two years ago. For the Cardinal faithful, that euphoria has never waned. Not for one day.
Last season's nine-win campaign and appearance in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl simply has added to the excitement for this fall, especially taking into account that this is the final year for All-MAC quarterback Keith Wenning.
But the players won't allow themselves to worry about championships yet. At least not too much, anyway.
“I don't feel pressure when I'm playing football,” Wenning said. “I work really hard at football and so do my teammates. We're going to go out each week and try to play our best football.
“We want to get to the MAC championship game, and we want to get to a bowl game, but you have to take it one practice at a time.”
Apparently, Lembo's boring – but effective – philosophy has spread to even the youth in the Fisher Football Complex. So the Cardinal fans have to muster the ability to get themselves into a lather regarding their team's performance in Wednesday's practice.
“Our guys understand that if they control what they can control,” Lembo said, “which is their preparation, and not just game week, but year round (i.e. Wednesday's practice), they'll give themselves a chance to get (to the MAC championship game) at some point.”
So was the coach waffling a bit and allowing himself to talk about a title game appearance? Not quite. Lembo definitely wants his coaches and players to have goals for the future, but never at the risk of losing sight of the necessary journey.
“Whether it be for an individual player, who has goals for himself,” Lembo said, “or for your team, or for young coaches on your staff, who you want to be very driven and to have goals for themselves, if they don't take care of the here and now, they are never going to get (to a championship).”
There is a road to Ford Field for the Ball State football team and it starts at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday in Muncie.