BY CONNOR ONION | Radio Voice of Ball State Football on WCRD 91.3 FM
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If there were a metric to calculate fun, Ball State would grade exceptionally high.
Ball State (1-0) traveled to Atlanta and dismissed Georgia State (0-1) with a 31-21 result last Friday night.
As you have heard by now, Ball State’s ground game spurred the win. James Gilbert, Darian Green, Riley Neal and Teddy Williamson racked up 325 yards and four scores.
Rushing yards were a crucial, tangible part of the triumph, but the more palpable impact was felt after Ball State’s protean backfield sprung loose for big gains.
“We were on fire on the sideline during the game [Friday night],” senior defensive end Josh Posley said.
He was right.
The most noticeable difference in the eight months Mike Neu has been the head coach at Ball State has not been schematically, it has been attitudinally.
“One thing [Coach Neu] implemented on his first day coming here was we’re going to have fun,” Posley said. “We don’t want it to be monotonous.”
The jovial nature of a Neu practice was apparent in spring ball.
Daily competitions involved linemen kicking field goals, quarterbacks throwing balls into trash cans and tight ends racing while pushing teammates in golf carts.
An older generation of blue-collar coaches may view these antics as frivolous. But fun – yes, even in a barbaric sport – has value.
The boyish nature has carried on to the field, even when situations arise not typically thought of as enjoyable.
“[Having fun] helped us get over the hump when our offense couldn’t get it going at that moment,” Posley said regarding quarterback Riley Neal’s two interceptions in the first quarter in the season opener.
The positive spirits led to positive results, which in turn, led to even more merriment on the sidelines.
“When ever we make big plays every one is jumping around, hooting and hollering and throwing fists,” junior receiver Jordan Hogue said. “It’s just a lot more fun.”
Big plays were prevalent in the second half in week one and the in-game celebrations weren’t restricted to the players exclusively.
After Teddy Williamson knifed through the Georgia State defense for a 15-yard touchdown run in the forth quarter to give Ball State a 24-14 lead, Neu nearly became the first Cardinal on the injury report in 2016.
The first-year head coach sprinted down the sidelines and chest-bumped senior offensive lineman Steve Bell after Bell guided Williamson into the end zone.
“He almost got the better of me on that one,” Neu said. “Thank God I stayed on my feet. I have to be be who I am and the coaches want to be the same way. We want to have fun.”
Neu’s zest has trickled down to his position coaches.
“You don’t have to worry about [coaches] yelling at you all the time,” Posley said. “We have a comfortable spirit with them.”
So comfortable, in fact, “Dancing with the Stars” may be a feasible second option if football doesn’t work out for Posley.
“I’m the best dancer on the team,” he added.
For now, Ball State would like to confine the all-conference defensive lineman’s dancing to on the field.
The amusing Cardinal’s next stage: Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana.