DETROIT – The culture has changed for Ball State's football team under the direction of coach Pete Lembo, and the mentality – the expectation to win every game – was on display through the words of the team Wednesday at the Mid-American Conference's media day.
“I remember coming in for my freshman year (of 2011), coming off a state championship team, and I'm not used to losing. We'd lose a game and guys would be laughing in the locker room. We went 6-6,” senior running back Jahwan Edwards said at Ford Field.
That was Lembo's first year, and the Cardinals have since gone 9-4 in 2012, when they lost in the Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl to Central Florida, and 10-3 last season, when they lost in the GoDaddy Bowl to Arkansas State.
“Coach has really changed things,” said Edwards, who holds the program record for rushing touchdowns (39) and needs 697 yards to eclipse the career record of 4,002 held by Snider's Marcus Merriweather.
“Guys are really thinking we're going to win every game and guys are wanting to win every game. Guys want to make that play for the team. Man, going 6-6 to now and just being able to compete in bowl games, that's quite a change.”
The Cardinals have strong ties to northeast Indiana with a roster that includes senior wide receiver Nick Chapel of Bishop Luers, sophomore receiver Kendrick Mullen of Luers, sophomore running back Jimmy Crumley of Luers, junior punter/kicker Alex Egan of Leo, freshman receiver Jordan Hogue of New Haven and freshman quarterback David Morrison of Concordia.
“It's exciting to see the type of young men that are developing in Fort Wayne, and we've made a tremendous effort to recruit the state of Indiana since we got here three years ago,” Lembo said. “We have nine full-time coaches and every one of them has an in-state recruiting area. We divvy up the state nine ways and try to get in every high school, every year. What we've found is not only are there some really good MAC players in Indiana, but we've gotten some great walk-ons to come to Ball State.
“(Running back) Barrington Scott would be a guy from Snider a few years ago. He came in as a walk-on, and he earned a scholarship while we were there and he ended up being a really nice player for us. We've had a lot of success stories like that, where in-state players have come in as walk-ons and earned scholarships.”
Last season, Ball State went 7-1 in the MAC's Western Division, one game back of Northern Illinois, which was 12-2 overall. Bowling Green, which was 10-4 overall, won the East at 7-1.
The Cardinals open this season Aug. 30 in Muncie against Colgate; the nonconference schedule also includes games at Iowa (Sept. 6), vs. Indiana State (Sept. 13) and at Army (Oct. 4).
After outscoring opponents 501-321 last season, the Cardinals plan to build on the success with five returning offensive starters, including wide receiver Jordan Williams, and six returning defensive starters, including linebacker Ben Ingle.
With record-setting quarterback Keith Wenning having graduated, junior Ozzie Mann is atop the preseason depth chart.
“The biggest thing we had to do when we came in was bring some stability,” said Lembo, the first Ball State coach to get nine or more victories in consecutive seasons since Dave McClain in 1977 and 1978.
“I was the third head coach for (some of) these guys. There was a lot of turnover with assistants. There were extreme highs and lows in terms of wins and losses. So everything we have done has been to build a program, to do it the right way and not cut corners, to take a long-term approach. Along with that, you start to have some consistency.”