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MUNCIE – The phones within the Ball State football offices ring with frequency with calls from players wanting to leave their current situation at a BCS program and head to Muncie to finish their careers. So why isn't the Cardinal roster filled with talent that BCS coaches felt – at one time – was worthy of a scholarship?
“The one thing in regards to transfers that we have tried to do, to reduce the risk and hopefully increase the chances of a fit and success,” Cardinal coach Pete Lembo said, “is to not just take a guy, but our unwritten rule is that there needs to be some kind of background, some kind of connection to us. That makes us feel better about whom this guy is.”
The Ball State roster this fall will feature five transfers, with four of them from nationally-renowned programs like Tennessee, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Central Florida. And the fifth is from NCAA Division II Saint Joseph's College and Lembo believes he has the potential to make as big of impact as any of them.
“I've been doing this a long time and there are no guarantees,” Lembo said. “There is no guarantee that the number one recruit that you signed ends up being an all-conference player.”
Taking out the football portion of the equation, Lembo wants the player to be able to be a success in the locker room and in the classroom just as much as he desires him to lead the Cardinals on the field.
“These guys still count in our (Academic Progress Rate),” Lembo said. “They still count in our team GPA. They are as much a part of the team as anybody else.”
When Lembo took over the Cardinal program in December of 2010, one of the most glaring deficiencies that he discovered was the problem of attrition. Cardinal players were leaving school at an alarming rate, which resulted in gaps in the positions. With departures, you may have an outside linebacker that is a senior, but the two behind him on the depth chart left the program and now you have to play a true freshman that really isn't ready for this level of football physically and mentally. That is where the occasional transfer can fill one of those gaps.
“We are building this program around high school recruits,” Lembo said. “There is no question about that. There is not even a one percent doubt about that. If we were just trying to band aid things for the short term, we would've gone out and signed 10 junior college players. However, we came into a situation where there were holes in the lineup.”
Lembo said that “connection” to any transfer allows the Cardinal coaching staff to research that individual and find out what their mindset is in wanting to do all that is asked of every Ball State football player. After spending years at nationally-ranked programs with the best of everything, it could be hard for a player to accept playing in the Mid-American Conference and in front of 13,000 people instead of 100,000.
“Here is the key, part of that responsibility is on us as a staff to try and bring in guys that have the right personality and don't have huge egos,” Lembo said. “We are clear on the front end in terms of this is what you are getting yourself into. But part of it falls on them to come in with a humble mindset that I am in a new place and I have to earn everything that I get here.”
Here is a rundown of the five transfers from other four-year programs that should be eligible this fall for Ball State:
* Toney Williams (6-foot, 223 pounds, junior running back) – Tennessee transfer that has looked good running the ball and is solid academically according to Lembo. However, the coach would like to see more consistency in his pass blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield.
Lembo on Williams: Toney has shown flashes of excellence on the field. He's been a little inconsistent. He's still learning the system. Toney is a big, strong, athletic guy and he is certainly competing with the other tailbacks.
* Jonathon Newsome (6-foot-3, 245 pounds, junior defensive end) – The Ohio State transfer needs to finish this summer session strong academically to ensure that he is on the field this fall. However, there is no questioning his ability. Newsome hasn't dominated the other candidates for playing time, but he has shown the ability to be a starter.
Lembo on Newsome: If John takes care of what he needs to (in the classroom), he'll certainly help us.
* Kenneth Lee (6-foot-2, 219 pounds, junior linebacker) – Saint Joseph's College transfer was a partial qualifier academically so went to an NCAA Division II program initially. However, Lembo has faith in small school players with big school talent and he thinks Lee can play at this level.
Lembo on Lee: He's a big, strong guy. Having competed against some Division II teams, they can scare the heck out of you because they have some outstanding athletes that didn't qualify coming out of high school. He'll be in a position to contribute this year.
* Jarrett Swaby (6-foot-1, 191 pounds, graduate safety) – Central Florida graduate is earning a Master's in Public Administration/Criminal Justice.
* Brandon Newman (6-foot, 303 pounds, graduate noseguard) – Notre Dame transfer will provide depth along the defensive front. Cardinal strength coach David Feeley has been impressed with Newman personally and athletically through summer workouts.