DETROIT – If there is a term that with certainty can not be applied to the Ball State football program over the past two decades, it would be “consistent.”
This has been a program that has shown it is capable of flashes of brilliance, but just as often engulfed in the abysmal. However, more often than not, the Cardinals have simply been mediocre during that time span.
Within two seasons of winning eight games, Ball State plummeted to a one-victory season followed by a winless season.
Just a few short seasons ago, Ball State fans can recall the euphoria of a 12-win season, but just as quickly note the two-win campaign that followed.
But all of that ceased when Pete Lembo took over the program following the 2010 season.
“The history of Ball State football is a big roller coaster,” Lembo explained. “Our history isn't.”
Lembo implemented a number (too many to count) of changes, but the goal has always been to build a consistently successful program. He's done it through retention of players (constant and honest communication helps in his regard), redshirting of players and player development.
The result has been that his program improved from six to nine and finally to 10 wins during his tenure.
“We have been consistent,” Lembo said. “That doesn't mean that you're going to win 10 games every year. But if you have a good program, you're not going to have 10-2 and then 2-10. You are maximizing your potential, you have a good foundation in place, the faces change, the names change, but you don't have these wild oscillations in terms of results.”
Cardinal running back Jahwan Edwards has been placed on the Doak Walker Award watch list entering his senior season, and with good reason. He's been an All-MAC selection each of the past two seasons and Edwards will most certainly attain the 697 yards rushing needed this season to become the most productive runner in program history.
But Edwards will be the first to tell you, none of that would have occurred without the help of the guy behind him.
Redshirt junior runner Horactio Banks was used with regularity (95 carries for 6.3 yards per carry) last fall, which resulted in Edwards getting less carries, and for less yards, than the previous season. And that's OK with the Cardinal captain.
“Horactio helps me so much,” Edwards said. “He's my biggest critic and even though he's not the starter, he could start at anytime. He and I take great pride in teaching each other things.”
The other backs such as sophomore Teddy Williamson, incoming freshman Darian Green and senior walk-on Denzel Pierce take note of the relationship between the top two backs and the group as a whole have proven to be team-oriented guys with winning as the only focus.
“We have great chemistry in the running backs' room,” Edwards said. “No one is fighting over carries. Nobody is being disruptive to (running backs coach Justin Lustig).”
Ingle seeks return
Not too many people list Detroit on any “must visit” lists, but Ben Ingle and Edwards want to get back to the Motor City in earnest.
The Cardinal linebacker visited Ford Field Wednesday for the conference media day, but really wants to be able to play a game in the stadium, not simply walk around in a suit and his customary bow tie.
“When Jahwan and I walked in here, the first thing that we said was that we have to be back here in several months,” Ingle said. “To do that, we have to take the next step. And to do that, you have to be on all cylinders and be at your best every single game and every single play.”
The redshirt junior linebacker made significant strides in 2013, improving his tackle total from a dozen to nearly 120. That production made an impression on the rest of the league and Ingle earned All-MAC second team honors.
That improvement showed on gamedays, but Ingle said getting to a championship level has more to do with weekdays than gamedays.
“It starts with practice,” Ingle said of a championship mentality. “You have to practice like you play every single day. The culture that coach Lembo and his staff have instilled in us, really emphasizes that.
You win the games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays.”
A 'different' P.J. Fleck
Western Michigan didn't garner much success during second-year Bronco coach P.J. Fleck's first season (his team won just one game), but he was proud of the off-season that the program had – particularly in recruiting.
“We went 24 for 24 (in securing verbal commitments),” Fleck said. “I was pretty proud of that. We didn't lose anybody on signing day. We didn't lose anybody three days before signing day. We didn't lose anybody a week before signing day. We didn't lose anybody.
I thought that was an attribute to who we recruited.”
Mid-major programs are raided late in the recruiting process by more renowned programs with regularity, so to prevent that from occurring, Fleck said he and his coaching staff keep everything fresh, new and exciting for those that have verbally pledged their allegiance to the program.
“When a kid commits to us, now we turn it up on a personal level,” Fleck explained. “We want him visiting as much as possible now. You have him now, but he's got to know why he's going to stay there when the other dogs come and that is the hardest part, because if you keep it the same, he bought (Western Michigan's pitch), but others are going to show you something better.
Every time that kid comes on campus, we make it different and better than the last time that he was on campus. Not one kid comes on campus and gets the same tour, gets the same talk, gets the same video, it's all different, all the time. I have nine business cards, (the recruit) never gets the same thing.
I'm just different and that is us. People can laugh at how we do things, but we're different.”
Martin is happy
Chuck Martin had a really special thing going when he was winning NCAA Division II national championships (2005 and 2006) at Grand Valley State. He liked being a head coach. But when his mentor Brian Kelly called and offered him an assistant coaching position at Notre Dame, Martin felt compelled to give up his true love.
“That was tough,” Martin said of leaving a head coaching position. “I love Notre Dame and loved being an assistant there. But I just love being a head coach more.”
Martin's “love” of the Fighting Irish program was so strong that he never gave thought to being a high-major assistant anywhere other than in South Bend.
“I swore that I'd never be an assistant again, but I loved Notre Dame,” Martin said. “That was the one place that I would be an assistant coach. (The offer) could've been from Texas or Florida and I wouldn't have went.”