There are moments during each day at the Fisher Football Complex when Ball State coach Pete Lembo will catch a glimpse of one of his players in the front lobby, in a meeting with coaches or during a weightlifting session, and it will dawn on the veteran coach that the message he's preached since December 2010 has taken hold.
Lembo and his Cardinals coaching staff are now old hats around Muncie. They will lead the program into its annual spring game Saturday at Scheumann Stadium (3 p.m. start and free to the public) for the third time. The players know the coaches, the coaches know the players and the Ball State fans are very familiar with everyone in the program.
“I really feel like our guys have bought into the lifestyle that we expect,” Lembo said. “It's not a job and it's not even just a sport that you play. It's a way that you live your life that is going to allow us to be successful.”
Lembo came to Muncie and found some players who had allowed their personal standards to slide, be it in the weight room, in the classrooms, in the meeting rooms or even in their living rooms. He and his coaches set about educating the young student-athletes on what it took to succeed on Saturdays in the fall. And it wasn't simply about strategy and strength.
“It's 24/7,” Lembo said. “It's certainly not something that you turn on and off. In just over two years, I really feel like that culture is already who we are and that is really neat to see. When you have that (culture established), you always have a chance.”
What does that culture entail? A lot of very simple things in theory, yet very difficult steps to have the discipline to actually put into practice. Things like drinking water.
Yes, drinking water. A gallon of it each day.
That sounds simple, but how many college students go to the convenience store and buy a bottle of water, as opposed to a Mountain Dew or coffee? It takes discipline.
That discipline extends to eating a healthy breakfast.
Again, it sounds simple, but how inviting is it for a college student to sleep in an extra 30 minutes and just eat a couple of Pop-Tarts, as opposed to a balanced meal? Very inviting, is the answer.
Another simple task is getting enough sleep.
Often the first thing that college students learn when they go away to school is that midnight is actually when the night starts, not ends. And that is during the week, not just weekends.
Going to bed at a decent time in a college dorm takes discipline (and often patience from those around you), but a physically tired body can't perform in the classroom or football field very well.
“It is controlling the things that you can control,” Lembo said. “It's also this belief in the plan and the vision for the program. I really see our guys not only believing in it, but starting to take ownership of it. And that is really encouraging in just two years time.”