The Spring Practice Sessions have completed and now the final act of the Spring is the upcoming Spring Game. Our reporters have been on the field watching the practices, speaking with Coaches and Players. We are proud to bring their reports here.
QB Eric Parker - Parker spent last season as a Red-Shirt, participating in Practice only. Last season's issues with the offense are well know, following our reporting. But, all of that seemed to dissipate as Parker lead the majority of the 1st Team Reps. He was in command of the offense and threw the ball very accurately. Coaches were extremely pleased with his performance. Offensive Coordinator Joey Lynch told us about Parker "He just grew up the past few months. He seemed to relish the role as the Top Guy for us and his attitude has been exactly what you want from a starter. We haven't decided who'll start in August, it's way too early to do that. But Erik has for sure given himself an edge over everyone else with his Spring performance."
RB Damian Laws - Laws was often times the best part of the Cardinal offense in 2022 and he seems to have taken step in his play. Laws isn't a big player, standing just 5-9 and weighting only 189 Pounds, but he is playing much larger than his frame. The Junior out of Middlebury broke several tackles and exploded for large gains on several plays. The Defense has had lots of trouble shutting him down. He looks poised to take a big step forward in 2023, and this offense really needs him to. Head Coach npklemm raved about Laws "He's so good in open field. We feel like if he gets a 1-on-1, he's going to win 95% of the time. He's spent quite a bit of time in the weight room since the season ended and it's showed. He's much stronger than he was last season. He's become a more explosive and dangerous player somehow. [OC Joey] Lynch has told me how excited he is to get Laws out on the field next year. I'm expecting great things out of him."
WR Sebastian Amato - Amato had a pretty poor showing last year, often times looking uninterested in playing football. But he is very motivated this Spring and has forged a good connection and bond with Parker. The two seem to be on the same wavelength, often times using small hand gestures to change routes at the line of the scrimmage. Parker was quoted as saying "Bas is playing so, so good man. He's taken all the anger and frustration he had from last season and he's using that on the field right now. He's hungry for the ball. We get along so well, we requested to be roommates next season to grow that on field bond even more. I'm excited to have him line up on the outside next year."
C Jordan Phillips - Phillips transferred to Ball State out of Bishop State Community College in Alabama. And the Offensive Line has never looked better. Jordan has taken his role as the anchor very seriously and he whole Offensive Line has bonded well together. You'll see them roaming campus in packs, the camaraderie is clearly there. OG Alex Story told us about Phillips "He's so reliable there in the middle. I know that when he snaps the ball, he's going to complete his assignment and finish the play. I don't have to worry about him, it just frees me up to focus on my assignment. It's made us a much stronger unit. He sees the game so quickly, he diagnoses the defense so fast. We know what the D will do before we snap the ball every time."
DE Samuel Cleveland - The True Freshman out of New Jersey has the defensive coaches buzzing with anticipation. He beat assumed starting Left Tackle Marc McMullen (also a True Freshman) often. Cleveland's role in the offense isn't necessarily pass rush, but he's "sacked" Parker multiple times throughout practice. He's been a severe thorn in the side of the Offense on every turn. DC David Elson was not conservative in his outlook for Cleveland "He could be Defensive Player of the Year this year in the MAC. I truly believe that. He's been so good and he got better with every practice. I can't wait to unleash him in the conference, I think he's going to be a monster"
OLB Dominique Brantley - Another true freshman standout for the Defense, Brantley often times teamed up with Cleveland to cause havoc in the backfield. He brings a quick and powerful attack that several Offensive Tackles had trouble dealing with. He wasn't always consistent in his play, he'd go stretches of being a non-factor. But those explosive plays show just how good he can be. Brantley may not be good enough year one to play major minutes, but expect him to be a terror in 2024. This from OLB Tyler Huntley "Dom is so quick off the edge. He's such a natural pass rusher. He has some work to do, like all Freshman. But, this guy is going to be scary good. I wish I had more eligibility so I could play with him more. He makes me a better player."
CB Giovanni Valentine - Valentine was the #2 Corner next to Amara Flowers last season. But, he's made a case to be the #1 this year. He picked off Parker on several occasions, and usually shut down whoever lined up against (normally Kaden Jenkins or Bruce Edmondson). Head Coach npklemm "Gio is really playing well. We feel really good about our Corners going into 2023, and a large part of that is how well Gio has played. That's a position we think we can set it and forget it."
Players Who Struggled
QB Leonard McIntosh - Leonard's struggles seem more mental than anything. He doesn't seem too thrilled to be taking 2nd/3rd Team Snaps. On several plays, he just checked the ball down instead of trying to push the ball up-field. Coaches were hard on him at times for his lack of interest. No one on the coaching staff was willing to speak about McIntosh.
TE Steven Moya - The Cards top receiver in 2022 was disappointed to no longer be the #1 receiving option as Amato has emerged in that role. He and Parker haven't bonded nearly as well as Parker and Amato have. His blocking has been a real issue as well. He wasn't a particularly strong blocker last season, but he seems to regressed in that area. Perhaps this is just early season blues for a player transitioning to a new role, the Cards will need Moya to be the player he was last year if they want to compete for a Bowl Game.
OT Lucas Stanley - The True Freshman really struggled on both the Left and Right sides of the line. He needs a lot of work to be a starter in this conference. He got beat by #2 and #3 Team Defenders way too frequently. Look for Stanley to take a Red-Shirt this year.
DT Vincent Uribe - The RS Freshman came off a good 2022 Practice Team performance with lots of excitement. But he just hasn't shown that in the Spring. He lost virtually every battle against Jordan Phillips he was put in. He had a little more luck going against the #2s, but the Coaching Staff was looking for Uribe to be the next in the line of great Ball State Defensive Tackles.
OLB Frank Long - Long was a starter for the Cards last season, but he seems to have regressed from his 2022 play. Kai Onesemo-Tuilaepa has taken over the majority of the First Team reps from Long, and this has affected Long mentally. He has gotten overly frustrated with his 2nd Team Teammates very frequently. He and ILB Avery Webb almost came to blows following a blown assignment on a play. Long may take a Red-Shirt this year.
CB Amara Flowers - Flowers was the clear #1 guy at Corner for the Cards in 2022, but he has been exposed by Sebastian Amato often in Spring. The Cards are pretty deep (and young) at Corner, so Flowers' spot as the #1 isn't at all secure. He will have to play better in the Summer if he wants to keep his spot.
The Special Teams Units are in good shape currently. It appears that True Freshman K Mitchell Randall and P Nikolas Harrington have taken over clear starting spots at their respective Positions. Randall doesn't have the strongest leg in the world, but he is super accurate under 45 Yards, which is something Ball State hasn't had in a while. Harrington likewise isn't going to kick many 60-Yard Punts, but he will put the ball right where he needs to in order to setup the Coverage. PR Bradley MucCullough never had many real opportunities for good returns this Spring due to Harrington's location.
The Offensive Line has improved greatly. This Coaching Staff has made a point the past couple seasons of bringing in young, talented Linemen. It's been a real point of emphasis for them, and it's paying off. The Cards Offensive Line struggled heavily at times last year, but they should be a much better unit in 2023. True Freshman Marc McMullen has taken most of the Reps at Left Tackle, while Sophomore RT Richard Baugh has improved greatly on the Right Side. On the Interior, C Jordan Phillips has been a God-Send for this unit. OG Alex Story and Elisara Mataafa have both really taken a step forward, thanks in large part to the presence of Phillips.
It's early in the process, but some players have shown their youth. Look for these guys to be Red-Shirted this season:
QB Leonard McIntosh 6-4 213 So Munroe Day (Quincy FL) 2.5 of 3.5 [Hybrid]
RB Javier Daniels 5-11 176 Fr Notre Dame (Quincy IL) 1.5 of 3.5 [Speed]
WR Israel Hooks 6-2 228 Fr Germantown (Germantown WI) 1.0 of 3.5 [Target]
WR Mark Sheppard 6-1 159 Fr Rock Hill (Rock Hill SC) 1.5 of 3.0 [Speed]
TE Joel Leone Jr. 6-3 214 Fr Hales Franciscan (Chicago IL) 1.0 of 4.0 [Receiving]
OT Lucas Stanley 6-4 315 Fr Maplewood-Richmond Heights ( MO) 2.0 of 3.5 [Pass Blocking]
OG Jesse Clatterbuck 6-6 274 Fr Leesville (Leesville LA ) 1.0 of 4.0 [Pass Blocking]
ILB Avery Webb 6-3 240 So Shelton (Dallas TX) 2.5 of 3.5 [Will]
ILB Jonah Sands 6-4 229 Fr Hales Franciscan (Chicago IL) 1.0 of 3.5 [Mike]
OLB Dominique Brantley 6-3 224 Fr Roberto Clemente Academy ( IL) 1.0 of 4.5 [Blitz]
OLB Jean Zarate 5-11 215 Fr Clay (South Bend IN) 1.0 of 3.0 [Coverage]
FS Caleb Wallace 6-0 184 Fr Germantown (Germantown WI) 1.0 of 3.5 [Zone Coverage]
K Johnny Burkett 5-8 223 Fr North Mesquite (Mesquite TX) 2.5 of 3.0 [Power]