Ball State football coach Pete Lembo addressed a gathering for alumni and fans to celebrate National Signing Day Wednesday at the Alumni Center.
The fourth-year Cardinal coach touched on a number of topics related to recruiting. Here are some excepts:
“If you think about our program, and where we were three years ago, and where we're at now, it really gets down to surrounding yourself with the right people. Putting them in a positive environment and giving them the structure and support that they need, showing that you care is real important, and then pushing them really hard to develop in all areas.
“If you do that, then you're going to have a chance to be successful even if you may not have everything that you want to have or think that you need to have. Those intangibles go a long, long way in allowing you to have some success.
“The neat thing is, we have a culture thing going on right now, and these kids are really believing in how we do it here and what works for us.
“With all of that being said, this is not an easy job. It's just not. It's not an easy job and I don't know if it will ever be an easy job. You win 19 games in two years and the last 30 days, starting with being in Mobile, Ala. (for the GoDaddy Bowl), have been as challenging as ever. It keeps you humble and you don't forget where you came from. You don’t forget that everyday you've got to roll up your sleeves and go to work and take on the next challenge.
“We're as excited about that now as we were three years ago.
“We've signed 19 guys, plus one graduate student. That doesn't sound like a very big signing class, but there is a good reason for that. We have done a good job of retaining players, and we have done a good job of redshirting players. If you were (Ball State president Jo Ann Gora), I sat down with her over three years ago, those were the fundamental things, there were six or seven fundamental areas that we talked about addressing to get the program on solid footing and put it in position for long-term success. Retention and redshirting were two of the most important things that we talked about. If you are doing those things, then you are going to be signing 18, 19, or 20 players, instead of 27, 28, 29 players. That is a good thing, a smaller signing class.
“Fifteen of these (recruits), were captains of their high school teams. Obviously, leadership is another thing that has been a huge emphasis for us. Twelve have over 3.0 grade point average.
“The other thing that I'll mention from an tangible standpoint is that we signed six guys from the state of Indiana. Even though that I had only stepped foot in Indiana once or twice before that in my entire lifetime, one of the things that we said that we were going to do was to commit to recruiting the state first. Knowing that Indiana doesn't produce that many (NCAA Division I) football players per year, its certainly not a Georgia or Florida or Ohio or California or a Texas, but that doesn’t mean that you don't try to get as many as you can that fit your needs and that you have a chance to bring to Ball State.
“For us to get roughly one-third of the class from the state of Indiana, that means that our coaches are working really, really hard at the backyard first, before we start venturing out into other areas.
“The class itself is a little bit heavier on wide receivers and defensive backs just because we like to look a year down the road or two years down the road or three years down the road, where we'll be graduating players and so forth. So we went a little bit heavier in those areas this year. The thing that I think is a common thread throughout is overall, it is a very athletic class.
“Human nature is this, you lose a bowl game and you forget about the 10 wins that you had before and you focus on the last one. You lose a recruit down the stretch to a BCS program or something like that, and you focus on 'Gosh, we lost that guy.' Sometimes you forget about all of the really good kids that you did get.
“Tuesday morning, as a staff, we sat and watched these recruits all over again, and we walked out of the room and said 'You know what, this is a pretty darn athletic group.' There are some guys here that can really run and hit and hopefully are really going to add a lot to our program.
“Always spending a lot of time putting a huge emphasis on the intangibles. I mentioned the number of captains, the leadership, but I really, really like a lot of the personalities of these kids. They are very easy to talk to. They are confident, articulate, and they are guys that will be a lot of fun to coach and very easy to communicate with.
“The (recruits) are very proactive and not afraid to ask questions. Hopefully, they won't be afraid to ask for help if they need it. And there are some really, really neat families. There are really good, supportive families that were involved in the process.
“Just to talk on the process, it starts way in advance. Some of our coaches have already been in schools this December and January talking to coaches about juniors. We are already beginning the next cycle, before this cycle is over. The process for some of these recruits started as early as last February, particularly the in-state guys. We try to get them to campus first on unofficial visits in March and April. Then you start expanding out a little bit and get Chicago kids, St. Louis kids and Ohio kids and Michigan kids.
“You try to work really hard to try and get the kids to come on their own first, because that is really good, quality time that you are getting, to get to know the young man and his family on our turf. They can now leave with a vision of what this place is all about.
“Our coaches go out in May and get two opportunities to go out into the schools and evaluate. And then guys are coming back onto your campus in the summer. Sometimes it is for summer camps. Sometimes it is for more unofficial visits. They're coming for home games in the fall and we're going out for four or five weeks and evaluating. Obviously, it reaches its pinnacle in December and January. It's a long process, but the timing of the process is a little bit different for each of these guys.
“At the end of the day, the thing that you hear the most, is what I started with, and that is, when I sit with these families and they are getting ready to leave campus on a Sunday, the thing that I hear the most is (about) the people, the chemistry of the team, the quality of the young men in the program, how they welcomed these kids to campus, and how they make them feel that they are already part of the team.
“We do a panel with the parents on visits, We'll line up five of our players and lock them in a room with the parents, the coaches will leave and we'll let the parents fire away without their sons there or the coaches there. They can ask our kids 'What is this program really all about? To play at Ball State, to be a student at Ball State, to live in Muncie. They get asked some really, really tough questions.
“A lot goes into recruiting. We are excited about this group and we're excited to start working on the next group.”