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MUNCIE – Two years ago, Ball State linebacker Ben Ingle sat in the office of Cardinals' coach Pete Lembo at the Fisher Football Training Complex and spoke at length about his desire to one day make the team's travel squad. A laughable goal in hindsight, as Ingle has developed into one of the top defenders in the Mid-American Conference, but a laudable one, which now serves as a teaching point by the coach with younger players.
“Ben Ingle now has a chance to be a two-year captain,” Lembo said recently. “He's a guy that has received all-conference honors. He's got really, really high goals for what he wants to do as a player. He's got really, really high goals for what he wants to see our program do. And he's making an impact on campus and in the community.”
The last part of that quote is the most notable. A lot of players have “really, really high goals” for themselves on the playing field. But that is where the Ball State program separates itself from many.
Each spring, Lembo, a player's position coach, as well as Cardinal strength and conditioning coach David Feeley sit down with each and every student-athlete within the program, and what the players have learned, as Ingle can attest, is that they better bring “really, really high goals,” as well as a lot of them to discuss.
“There are a lot of goals,” Ingle explained. “It's a top to bottom sheet of goals.”
Goals like how many tackles a guy will make? Or as in the case of Ingle, perhaps some all-league achievements? They can be. But if a guy's list stops at the sidelines, they'll find themselves sitting with Lembo a lot longer than initially scheduled.
“Each of those meetings is going to be a little bit different,” Lembo explained. “The meeting with me tends to be more of the 10,000-foot view of all areas of your life. Where are we at? Where do we want to go?”
The veteran coach explained that the areas analyzed can and will include the obvious ones of athletics and academics, but the two parties will also delve into “family, career, social, and community.”
Ingle added that improving spiritually can also be included if the player chooses.
“Absolutely,” Lembo said of discussing religion. “What difference can you make in our program? What are the handful of things that you can do in the short term and the long term to make a difference on Ball State football?”
Ingle is a criminal justice major, but due to his having redshirted as a freshman, he'll pick up a couple of minors in other areas with the extra year, according to Lembo. When the coach and player got to discussing Ingle's post-football career, the coach thought of a perfect match between Ingle and an area business (MacAllister Machinery) in need of summer interns.
Ingle has now spent a couple of summers developing relationships within that company and has “loved it.” And he's smart enough to realize that he just might end up there.
“Football is going to end someday,” Ingle said. “Sadly, that's the truth. It may be in two years. It may be in six, it's different for other people. It could be tomorrow at practice. You have to have a plan for what you are going to do next and coach Lembo looks at the big picture.”
Ingle spent this past summer not only laying the groundwork for a white-collar career, but also venturing outside his comfort zone and challenging himself to become more of a leader within his team. One of his goals last spring was to be a guy that helped organize summer workouts through that critical time of the training year.
Some may view this level of personal attention obtrusive, but for the mature and intelligent young men, such as Ingle, it's not seen as micromanaging, but as valuable and caring.
“It's actually a really cool thing,” Ingle said. “I've got buddies at other programs all across the country and when you talk to them, a lot of head coaches aren't doing what coach Lembo does. They aren't developing players and networking them. He looks at 'What are these young men going to do when they are out in the workforce? And how can I help them get a step ahead of other college students?'
“We have so many career fairs and stuff, but the stuff that we do gets your name out there. There are so many great people and fans around this program that you need to get to know. You never know how they can help you someday.”