MUNCIE – Here comes the man on whom so much always rides, rocking a fresh Reds cap. The Quarterback, ladies and gentlemen. Cross-dressing, as it were.
It’s OK, though. Turns out it’s utterly appropriate for Keith Wenning, who loved baseball as much he did football back home in Coldwater, Ohio.
Cardinals and Brewers, he says, when you ask who was interested in him as a pitcher and third baseman coming out of high school.
The Cardinals got him, though not those Cardinals. Although there must have been times a couple of seasons ago when he might have thought he chose the wrong Cardinals.
Wenning was a freshman then, thrown into the breach for a football team that was mostly all breach.
The Cardinals limped to a 4-8 record that would signal the end of Stan Parrish’s brief tenure, and Wenning manfully held down the fort, throwing 14 touchdowns to go with 14 interceptions. Two years later, those days are a distant echo.
He’s earned a lot of respect from his teammates, says Ball State coach Pete Lembo, noting that Wenning, a junior, was voted one of four team captains. He’s not the most outspoken guy, but when he does speak, people listen.
With Keith, it all starts with leading by example. He’s worked his tail off in the weight room. (He’s) trying to be that guy who’s out in front so nobody else in the weight room is saying, Ah, he’s just a quarterback. He’s just here.’
It helps, of course, that Wenning has done it on the field, too. As a sophomore playing in an entirely new system last season, his touchdowns passes (19) went up and his interceptions (11) went down. He was 23 of 29 for 173 yards and two TDs in the season-opening win over IU; 24 of 30 for 324 and three scores in a rout of Army; 27 of 38 for 325 and three TDs in beating Central Michigan.
It was all part of a 2,786-passing-yards season.
A few weeks later, he went toe-to-toe with MAC Player of the Year Chandler Harnish, throwing for 284 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-38 shootout loss.
I was really pleased with how he played in his first season in our system, Lembo says. He made a significant jump in good categories like completion percentage and touchdown passes, and he was also able to significantly lower some other stats, like interceptions.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Wenning, who’s dropped roughly 15 pounds from a year ago, says he feels much more comfortable this time around, and wiser, too. Turnovers, he’s realized, hurt a lot more than the crisply thrown deep out help. And so he’s basically declared war on them.
That’s something I’ve worked hard on this offseason, and it’s something I’m hoping to improve on, he says. A lot of it is just reading defenses, being smarter in anticipating what defenses are going to do. Just controlling the offense knowing where everybody’s going to be and basically telling everybody where to be.
Music to Lembo’s ears.
I hope he continues to improve, he says. From a perception standpoint, I think if you asked a lot of people that watched us play, I think they would say to you he was a good player and a very solid starter and all those things. I think Keith can get his game to the point where those same coaches say, When I go to vote for the all-conference team, he’s one of the three or four guys that I’m thinking about.’
That’s the next step.