MUNCIE - Though gray t-shirts and plain black athletic shorts aren't making any fashion statements, the drab uniforms are key for Ball State football players. In the offseason, players shift their focus from on-field exercises to the weight room.
And there, it's important to fit in.
“We need to look the part, and we need to work the part,” director of strength and conditioning David Feeley said. “That's how it's got to be. It's a blue collar atmosphere.”
It's all about intangibles and substance, Feeley continued. From head coach Pete Lembo down, that's the message the coaching staff has delivered to players. Since joining the program in 2011, Feeley has worked to make a transition away from the use of auxiliary machines.
Feeley introduced Olympic equipment and a focus on what he calls “old school” lifts when he joined the program. Squats and cleans are at the top of his list. Players can never be too good at those two exercises, he said. So each summer players return to the same lifts they had already perfected last year. The consistent training regimen is applauded by athletes, as many have made huge strides since joining the team.
Take senior running back Jahwan Edwards for example. Ball State was the only Division I football program to extend an offer to the 5-foot-10 workhorse out of high school. Now he's earned a place among the Mid-American Conference's top players.
“Just come in here, work and good will come out of it,” Edwards said. “It's just work.”
When Edwards joined the Ball State program in 2011 weighed in at 232 pounds. Three seasons and 3,306 rushing yards later, Edwards is working with a solid 219-pound frame.
His production, especially in the last two seasons, has been huge in pushing Ball State to consecutive bowl game appearances. Now it's up to guys like Edwards to help raise an ever-important class of Ball State freshmen.
Their impact won't necessarily be felt this year, but first-year players will decide the team's fate in the seasons to come.
“They have all the ability in the world to keep it rolling and give us a chance to win some games,” Feeley said. “They've got to understand how those guys got there.
“If we're not performing with great technique, we're not going to do it.”
Learning proper form is only one part of the learning curve freshmen encounter. Freshmen are also tasked with learning the team's fight song and conducting face-to-face interviews with their older teammates. And just to keep things fair, older players recite the fight song back to the rookies.
Edwards said it's important they understand how much Ball State's culture has changed in recent seasons. With quarterback Keith Wenning, wide receiver Willie Snead and defensive end Jonathan Newsome all making NFL teams this year; that progress has never been more evident.
Former teammates making the jump to professional football serve as motivation for Edwards. Wenning and Snead, similar to him, had just one Division I offer apart from Ball State.
“They are self-made men,” Feeley said. “I admire them.”
Edwards knows he has access to the same, basic, yet effective platform they did and he won't take it for granted.
“I've always wanted to have the opportunity to (build myself up),” Edwards said. “Now I'm just trying to make the most of it. This is my last go-around, so I'm trying to take every opportunity I get.”