MUNCIE – As usual, the weather this spring for BallState football practices has been inconsistent. One workout is conducted in a biting, blustery wind, while Saturday's practice was conducted in mild, beautiful sunshine. However, what hasn't been inconsistent has been the continued presence of potential Cardinal student-athletes venturing to Muncie to watch practices, get to know the coaching staff and tour the Ball State campus and facilities.
“We can't go on the road and see recruits right now,” second-year Cardinal coach Mike Neu told The News-Sentinel recently. “But we've been to a lot of clinics where we spoke and sold our program. We're selling the excitement of having the number two (ranked) class in the MAC. I think kids are seeing that.”
The Cardinals signed 27 players in February, which 247Sports ranked as the second best in the Mid-American Conference, and that momentum has carried over into spring visits.
Following the workouts, the Cardinal coaches wander over to the sidelines and visit with the parents, players and coaches in attendance and it often takes awhile, because the crowds are numerous, even on bad weather days.
“Kids are seeing the excitement,” Neu said. “Having them here on the Saturday practices is always great because they don't have school. We still have visitors on Thursdays, but we typically have more on the weekends because of kids being able to get here with no school.”
BallState is selling the Cardinal coaching staff, several of which (including Neu) have ties to the NFL, but also the ability for young talent to get on the field quickly, as the program rebuilds.
One aspect that can not possibly be ignored by the visiting recruits is the pace and enthusiasm of each practice.
The Cardinal coaches are boisterous with their players, but often in an enthusiastic way. Neu said that practices are a time to improve, but also have fun while doing so, and he hopes that resonates with the high school athletes.
“We want them to see first hand the atmosphere in a practice,” Neu said. “We want them to see the guys in the program and visualize themselves being here. That is what it is all about.
“We have fun at practice and we compete at practice and I want them to see themselves being here.”
The BallState coaching staff has a number of young coaches on its staff, which helps them relate to the teenagers, but even the veteran coaches are youthful in their energy level at practices. That is a requirement set by Neu.
“I try to emphasize that all of the time,” Neu said of high energy. “The wins are coming. But when you have fun doing what you do, it is a lot easier to accomplish your goals.”
Neu not only wants the recruits to see that energy and fun atmosphere, he also wants his current players to have an outlet to release any stress built up from the daily life endured by every college student.
“When these kids bust their tails all week long in the classroom and staying up late studying for an exam, working on a project,” Neu said, “my goal for them, when they do come to practice is that it is supposed to be refreshing. It is supposed to be fun and not 'Oh, I dread this.'
“You've worked your whole life to get to this point, it is supposed to be enjoyable, not supposed to be miserable.”
Neu and a number of his assistants have been on the recruiting trail for over a year selling the Cardinal program, but for recently-hired defensive coordinator David Elson, it is his first time seeing how outsiders perceive the program and university. His area of recruiting will span from Kentucky north to Indianapolis and so far he has enjoyed the experience.
“You get great feedback and response when you reach out to a kid for the first time that you've liked,” Elson said. “Because of the MAC, because of past success and what we did in recruiting this past year, kids are very aware of BallState.
“That is the biggest battle is getting them to be aware of who we are and where we are and the response has been really positive.”
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