By Kelly Page
Senior Quarterback and Member of Ball State Sports Link
When I was first asked by Sports Link's Chris Taylor to write about my time here at Ball State, I told him I could write a book. The opportunity to share my memories with the people of my Ball State family is something I hold dear to my heart. The friendships and memories I have made in my time here are things I will hold on to for the rest of my life. My football career here at Ball State has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride -- a twisting and spiraling ride I will never forget.
From Texas To Oregon To Muncie
Getting recruited to Ball State University was something I had never imagined in my wildest dreams. Early on in the recruiting process, during the summer heading into my senior year of high school, I committed to the University of Tulsa.
Coach Todd Graham was the head coach at the time and coincidently, he was from my hometown of Mesquite, Texas. A couple of weeks later I got a phone call from Chip Kelly at the University of Oregon. When I heard "Your offer is in the mail" and "we want you to be an Oregon Duck", I dropped everything that was going on with my commitment to Tulsa and changed right then and there to the University of Oregon. It was something that I didn't even think about. It was like "Yes! I am committing to Oregon."
I went on an official visit, loved it and thought I would be playing my college football career in Eugene. As the year went on, Oregon climbed the polls to No. 2 in the country. Not only did one or two more quarterbacks commit during my senior year, three did. If I had signed, there would have been four freshman quarterbacks alone.
Luckily, I had met a man by the name of Randy Rodgers during the early stages of the recruiting process. He was a recruiting guru who helped players get attention and exposure to the recruiting world. I spoke at a couple of his conventions about the recruiting process and we maintained a relationship, although I was already committed Oregon.
A couple of weeks before signing day, I received a phone call from Coach Jeff Hecklinski from Ball State University. A quarterback had just de-committed, and Coach Heck called Randy to see if he knew of anyone that he should contact. Coach Hecklinski and I talked almost every day.
There were limits on how many times he could call me, so I would call him. Not only would I talk to him, but I would talk to his wife Tiffany, his daughter Riley and their two sons as well. It was like they already wanted me to be a part of their family. I talked to Coach Stan Parrish a few times during the recruiting process as well and we developed a great relationship too.
When Coach Hecklinski and Coach Brady Hoke came to my house for an in-home visit, it was one of the neatest experiences of my life. This in-home visit was not like any other. Coach Hoke was one of the most sincere and genuine people I had ever met. From that point on, I knew I wanted to play for Coach Hoke.
On my official visit, I committed to Coach Hoke and his staff because I felt there was a tight knit, family feel to the Ball State program you really don't see at other universities. With the help of my family, especially my mother and father, I decided this was the best place for me to go to college and to continue my football career.
Also during my visit to Muncie, I got the chance to be hosted by Daniel Ifft, who I have remained close with to this day. I also met Nate Davis, Tanner Justice, Michael Switzer and Sean Baker to name a few. I thought all of these guys were great individuals and they showed me a really good time while I was here on my official.
Being on my own for the first time when I got to Ball State was an eye-opening experience. I lived with Briggs Orsbon, Austin Holtz and Scott Kovanda in the summer leading up to my freshman year. I can remember that summer like it happened yesterday. We would wake up, eat some Eggos with peanut butter, go workout and run with the team, and then come home and play Frisbee golf for about three hours.
This was our routine on a daily basis. None of us had ever cooked, cleaned or been on our own for longer than maybe a week at a time. When we moved into the dorms and started the actual season, all of us freshman thought college football was so easy.
One of the neatest things about that year was I got the opportunity to run the scout team offense against our first team defense. What we did as a scout team was try to give our defense the best look possible so that they could go out and defend the other teams offense to the best of their abilities on Saturdays. Another neat thing about that year was the fact there were so many talented upperclassmen for the underclassmen to look up to and learn from.
For me specifically, I learned a lot from being the backup to Nate Davis. That guy could sling the ball around with the best of them. He was such a great talent and leader for the 2008 football team. Another guy a lot of underclassmen looked up to was Dante' Love. This guy was one of the quickest and most-talented receivers I had ever seen. He had a work ethic topped by none. I always remember him staying after our workouts and working out a little more. He was going to let nothing stop him from having one of the most memorable senior seasons for a receiver in Ball State history.
As many people know, Dante's senior season and football career was cut short during the Indiana game. He caught a pass out of the backfield and ducked his head a little before getting tackled. It gives me chills now just thinking about it. When he lay there motionless and was carted off the field, it sent a chill down the entire team's spine. We were playing for something bigger then ourselves now. We all knew the time and effort that Dante put in for this senior season. We were playing for Dante now.
When Dante got hurt during the IU game, a young and inexperienced freshman by the name of Briggs Orsbon had to go in and replace him. The funny thing about this is Briggs Orsbon was my roommate. He had already been playing a little here and there leading up to the IU game, but now he was going to have to step up and contribute even more. The next game on our schedule was Kent State. Not only did Briggs step up, he had 10 catches for 115 yards. Here was this true freshman, a scrawny kid from Convoy, Ohio -- and my roommate -- who was forced to grow up over night.
Because I was redshirting in 2008, I was basically living through Briggs' success. During that year, Briggs and I became best friends and almost brothers. Since I was so far away from home (being from Texas), I would go home with him to different family gatherings and just sometimes on the weekends. His family, Neal, Lori, and Levi, took me in and took care of me since mine was so far away.
During the 2008 season, we rose all the way to No. 12 in the country. Like I said before, many of us freshman and underclassmen thought college football was so easy. We didn't see the hard work and adversity those guys went through to get to where they were now. Getting to 12-0, going to the MAC Championship Game in Detroit and going to a bowl game in Mobile, Alabama were things one would only dream about when entering college. I was getting to be a part of all of this as just a freshman. Little did us underclassmen know, we were about to get a rude awakening in the next few years.
Bad Games and Broken Bones
After that successful 2008 season ended, Coach Hoke and most of his staff went off to San Diego State. Everyone on the football team was very excited when Coach Parrish came to us and told us he was going to stay around and be our head coach. The 2009 season for the Ball State Cardinals did not turn out the way any of us wanted it to. Not using experience as an excuse, but, well, we didn't really have any. I believe we had a whopping three returners on the offensive side of the ball, and about the same on defense.
It's not like we went out in every game and just got blown out. We were very competitive in almost every game we played. It was just like instead of finding ways to win a football game, we were finding every single different way to lose one.
In the seventh game of the year against Bowling Green, I was throwing a pass and my hand smashed into a helmet. After staying in one more play to run the ball, my hand was throbbing in pain. Come to find out a couple days later, I broke a bone in my thumb and also tore the UCL ligament as well. Even though we weren't having much success on the field when it comes to wins and losses, I was devastated when I found out that I would not be able to play any more that season.
After rehabbing my thumb, winter conditioning, spring ball and summer, we were all ready to get out there to play some more football. We thought we had embarrassed ourselves the previous year and really wanted to play a different brand of football for the 2010 season.
Man in the Glass
To start the season, we played Southeast Missouri State. All I can remember from that game is the fact I was so happy to get our first win and be 1-0 for the season. The next game we had on the schedule was Liberty. About half way through game, Coach Parrish pulled me and put in Keith Wenning. As a competitor I was very upset over this move. Keith remained the starter throughout the rest of the season and has continued to start ever since.
With all of this happening, I really had to look at myself in the mirror and ask myself if I was going to stay here and be a backup, or look at my other options and maybe transfer closer to home. I remember one day in a team meeting, Coach Parrish read the poem "Man in the Glass."
After listening to that poem, talking for days and days with my parents and brother and sister -- and really thinking about who I was as a person -- there was no doubt in my mind I was going to stay at Ball State. I had established great friendships and great relationships with people I really didn't want to leave. Also, I didn't want to be remembered as someone who ran away from a situation just because I was unhappy I wasn't the starter.
The 2010 football season was again, not as successful as anyone on our team wanted it to be. We played tough in a lot of games, but in the end we just didn't get it done. Finishing at 4-8 was a huge disappointment for not only us as players, but for the administration at Ball State as well.
When the season concluded, Coach Parrish and his staff were informed that they would no longer be coaching at Ball State. This is not something I took very well. After the 2008 season, I remember calling Coach Parrish and asking him to stay with us. This was the man who recruited me to Ball State, the man that I spent every single day with in quarterback meetings, the man that I could talk to as a friend whenever I really needed someone to talk to. Yes - this was the same guy that benched me, but we had built a relationship beyond football that I didn't want to have taken away from me.
Over Christmas break after the 2010 season, while all of us were at home with our families and friends, we heard rumors and speculation that we had a new head coach. When we got back to campus, we were introduced to our new head coach: Pete Lembo.
Having three head coaches in four years is something I would never wish on any college football player. We were going to have to learn new terminology again, relate to new assistant coaches, learn new strategies, get used to how Coach Lembo runs a program compared to how the other staffs ran theirs and much more. One would think that with two head coaches before, the players wouldn't want to buy in to yet another new program and may distance themselves from the new Lembo staff.
However, the transition to Coach Lembo and his new staff went much smoother than anyone could have imagined. The players bought in to his philosophies, related to the assistant coaches great and wanted to get to work right away.
As we headed into spring ball with the new coaching staff, we had to learn the new terminology and plays we were going to run with this staff. I feel as if spring ball went pretty smooth and the talk of being excited to play football again resonated with the majority of the team.
At the conclusion of spring practice, Coach Skrosky, the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ball State, called me into his office for kind of an end-of-spring-ball evaluation. During that meeting we discussed things I had to improve, things I needed to get better at and things I did well.
As the meeting went on, he told me Keith would be the starting quarterback for the upcoming season. It sucked hearing it just because of the competitor that I am, but I knew Coach Skrosky knew what he was talking about and he felt Keith would give us the best chance at winning.
Again, the thought of transferring and moving closer to home became something I would think about every single day. I really missed my family and friends back home. But, the friendships and relationships I had built here were also another year stronger. My decision? I was going to stay.
I would keep battling and do anything and everything in my power to help Keith become one of the best quarterbacks around. Many people think there would be hostility between Keith and myself, but we actually have the complete opposite type of relationship. We have grown to be pretty good friends both on and off the field. I help him with things he may not see when he is in the game. We talk about coverages, we hang out at each other's apartments and we even room together when we stay in a hotel before each football game.
A Different Role
Going into 2011 with Coach Lembo and his new staff, we actually had some pretty lofty goals. We felt in the previous two years, we were so close to winning more games than we actually did and this is the year we were going to learn how to finish.
The 2011 season also marked the first time in my football career I would not be playing very much. During this season, I played in the fourth quarters of three different games. They were either out of reach for us because we were losing so bad, or the other way around. None of the playing time I had during this season had an effect on the way the game turned out. I had to know my role on this team and that role wasn't going to be the starting quarterback. I had to go out there with the team with a positive attitude, help anyone out with questions they had with the offense, lead in any way that I could and do whatever the coaches asked of me.
As the 2011 season concluded, our record was 6-6. We really hoped that some way we would squeak into a bowl game, but we all knew we were a long shot for a selection.
Not getting a bowl berth at the conclusion of the 2011 season was a major turning point with the guys on this Ball State Football team. The guys that were going to be fifth-year seniors for the 2012 season did not want to leave Ball State without going back to a bowl game.
Leaving a Legacy
One main focus we harped on going into the 2012 season was the fact we were one of twoteams that were bowl eligible at the end of the 2011 season, that didn't actually get invited to a bowl game. As fifth year seniors, we were going to do anything and everything in our power to not be left home again. Our expectations for the 2012 season were even higher than the previous year. We talked about not only winning a MAC Championship, but also leaving a legacy in the Ball State football program -- not only getting to a bowl game, but being the first team in the history of the University to actually win a bowl game.
As the season started, my role continued to be a vocal leader and to lead by example. We started the season with a pretty good win against Eastern Michigan and then followed that up with a loss at Clemson the next week.
The third game of the season was a game that all of us had been looking forward to for an entire year: Indiana. We had beaten that school in Bloomington the previous year, but they talked the entire year how they felt they should have won. This time though, we were playing at their home field instead of at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. For the third time in my career, we played the Hoosiers and the Cardinals came out with the victory. I don't know of many other Cardinal football players besides the fifth-year seniors on this team that have played IU three times and beat them every single time. Those victories are unforgettable. I will always wear proudly on my sleeve. I was undefeated and 3-0 against that school in Bloomington.
We then won a close game against South Florida followed by two losses in a row to two teams which eventually met for the MAC Championship game. After those two losses though, we went on a six-game winning streak.
In the second to last game of the year against Ohio University, Keith Wenning, our Second Team All-MAC Quarterback, and a great friend of mine, got hurt late in the seconnd half catching a pass thrown to him by Jamill Smith. I didn't really have any time to think about what was happening, I just had to go out there and run the plays that were called. I will never forget what happened next.
We are lined up on the 7-yard line and Coach Skrosky calls for a zone read run play. It was one of the coolest things in my football career. I pulled the football away from the running back and ran towards the end zone for a touchdown. The rest of the game, I did a lot of handing the ball off to Juhwan Edwards and Horactio Banks. Here and there I would throw a pass or run the ball again on a zone read. In the end though, we beat Ohio University by a score of 52-27. We scored more points in that game against Ohio then any other team had done against the Bobcats in the entire Frank Solich-era.
The next week was the week of Thanksgiving and we were set to play the Miami of Ohio Redhawks. Keith was still injured with a hurt ankle so I was getting my first start in two years. In the third quarter, I was hit in the head pretty hard while I was scrambling to gain a few extra yards. This hit resulted in a concussion that knocked me out for the rest of the game. Luckily though, we had already scored 28 points and were on our way to more points when I was knocked out. Winning the game was awesome because the team had been through so much adversity, and our resilience as a team really showed in this win.
The Last Game
As my football career is coming to an end and the last time I will ever put pads on before a football game is only a few days away, it will be such an incredible moment and honor to end my career in a bowl game for the Ball State Cardinals.
Getting the bid to the St. Petersburg, Florida bowl game makes my football career here at Ball State come full circle. My freshman year I made the trip as a redshirt quarterback to Mobile, Alabama for our bowl game there. Now as a 5th year senior, I will be part of another one. I couldn't have asked for a better way to end my football career at Ball State.
As my time at Ball State comes to an end, the decision I made five years ago to commit to this University was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. The friendships I have made are lifelong, the relationships with the people in the Muncie community I have made will remain strong, the education I have received was second to none, and the time and memories I have here at this University will never be forgotten. I wish I could thank every single person that has made it so memorable for me.
Ball State University is a place I have called home for five years. It has -- and always will -- hold a special place in my heart. Thanks for the memories.