Q: Ball State returns six starters on defense from the 2012 team. Talk today a little bit about the defensive line position and what you are looking for from the returnees.
Coach Lembo (@Pete_Lembo): We have some experience returning on the defensive line. This group improved its productivity from 2011 to 2012 and we hope they can get a little bit better this year, too. We need to be able to hold up against the run and generate a pass rush with our front four. We also hope veteran guys like Joel Cox, Nathan Ollie, Jonathan Newsome and Nick Miles can provide some leadership in the locker room, on the sideline and on the field. Part of that challenge is playing with great consistency and playing through the bumps and bruises that inevitably come with that position. Fortunately, we will have more depth this year. It is exciting to know we have a two deep that has all seen action in games at meaningful times. Michael Ayers played most of the bowl game and has gotten bigger in the offseason. Darnell Smith, Keenan Noel and Osazuwamen Igbinosun have the physical tools to be good players. We also have some younger guys that have a lot of upside potential.
Q: You typically have a number of recruits, parents and community members at your practices. Discuss a little about your concept of open practices throughout the season.
Coach Lembo (@Pete_Lembo): From the second we arrived here at Ball State, we have wanted our program to become a source of pride for the institution and the community. The best way to make all our constituents feel like they are an extended part of the team is to give them intimate access to the program. We are humble, but we believe in our vision and our plan for the program. We enjoy sharing that vision with our entire constituent base. When people watch our practices, they inevitably walk away with an impression that this is a highly organized, highly motivated group of people. Our coaches are educators and our players are students of the game. There are no secrets. We want recruits and their families to get a feel for the culture in our organization and practice is a good way to learn about us. Next Saturday, we will host several Ball State faculty members at practice as a small thank you for all they do to support our student-athletes. We have also taken faculty with us on away game trips each year so they see the preparation that goes into each game. We invite all of our former lettermen back for the spring game so they can get around each other and the current team. The football program and our events should be a rallying point for the Ball State community.
Q: How much of an advantage is it for a couple of your recruits to start school in January as opposed to the fall in terms of football and academics?
Coach Lembo (@Pete_Lembo): It depends on the student-athlete and their maturity level. If a student-athlete has established an early start as his goal and is committed to making it happen, they generally start off in the right frame of mind, despite starting school in the middle of the year. Willie Snead is a great example of a guy who came in early and took full advantage of the extra semester to get ahead academically and in terms of his understanding of the offensive system. Teddy Williamson came in January in a similar state of mind. He has been very focused in the classroom and in meetings and on the field. He is taking advantage of the opportunity he is getting this spring behind Jahwan Edwards and Horactio Banks. Teddy, like Willie, is a ‘low maintenance’ guy. We consider that to be a great compliment around here! Stephan Martin and Darius Conaway also began their Ball State careers this spring. Stephan is a junior college transfer and Darius was grayshirted after signing with us a year ago. Both young men are going to be assets to the program as well. I am sure we will other young men in the future that start their careers off early. We will be very selective and very honest with them throughout the process.