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Ball State coach savors chance to shape new talent

– Snow filled the central Indiana sky, on the first morning of spring football at Ball State. It blew sideways in great swooping veils. Painted jacket fronts white. God’s little joke on football people.

And not the funny ha-ha kind, either.

No, this was the hey-grab-this-electrified-fence kind of joke, and if there were anything in it that fit the occasion, it was that this isn’t a funny ha-ha kind of spring for Ball State football coach Pete Lembo. He’s coming off only the third 10-win season in school history, and some big chunks of those 10 wins are missing. So this will likely be an evaluation spring like Lembo hasn’t seen in his four years in Muncie.

Suits him fine.

“I was doing some reading recently,” he said Tuesday. “And I saw something about the Romans. And the Romans had a maxim: ‘Sharpen your weapons and limit your frontiers.’

“That’s applicable to us because really our goal this spring is to develop and improve our personnel. And let them compete.”

And so there won’t be a lot of scheme work this spring; there will, however, be a lot of fundamental work, as befits a program that values fundamentals above almost all else. And there will competition – especially, but hardly limited to, the quarterback position, much of which has to do with what Lembo sees out there these days.

What he sees on this tempestuous first day are four arms not attached to anyone named Keith Wenning, a novel concept after three autumns in which Wenning went all Joe Frazier on the Cardinals’ record book. By the time he threw his last pass in the GoDaddy Bowl in January, Wenning owned just about every passing record Ball State had.

And now?

Now there are Ozzie Mann and Jack Milas and David Morrison and Kyle Kamman, and none of them is Keith Wenning. Mann, a sophomore from Delta High School, is the most experienced of the lot, if you consider nine career passing attempts experience. Kamman, a junior from Columbus North, was the holder on special teams last year. Milas is a redshirt freshman out of Arlington, Ill., and Morrison a true freshman from Concordia.

It is to Lembo’s credit as a man with an endless capacity to see the upside that he can’t wait to get started with them.

“I see it as a fun time, an exciting time,” he said. “This is our future. We’re trying to figure out who the next guy is going to be, and hopefully at the end of spring we’ve got two or three guys who can play. It is what it is, and it’s going to be fun to see how it plays out.”

Part of this you can no doubt attribute to a contract extension that suggests he’s both staying put awhile and the university wants him to.

But the rest is just Lembo, who finds joy in both his reworked staff (defensive coordinator Kevin Kelly, recruiting coordinator Nick Siatras and tight ends coach Patrick Dougherty are new) and all the position battles he envisions for the spring.

Including, yes, quarterback.

“There’s not a lot of game experience in the group,” admits Lembo, who tackles the new season with admits. “But it’s a great group of kids. I think they’re very coachable, they’re very eager, they’re anxious to get going. … It’s going to play out. It’s going to sort itself out.”

Experience or no experience. False spring, or the real thing.

“You control what you can control,” Lembo said, cheerfully, when someone brought up the weather.

And then a last laugh.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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