Fanfare at Ball State's signing day wouldn't compare to the likes a majority of any teams in the big six conferences of college football, but one thing that Pete Lembo does have is a crystal clear vision of how to build his program from a recruiting standpoint. In his signing day presser Lembo provided some unique insight on how his recruiting philosophy has helped him build Ball State into a program that has accumulated 19 wins over the past two seasons.
Ball State didn't go out and sign 28 guys, and none of them were rated as blue chip prospects, but the players that the staff were able to sign are players that fit the mold of what Lembo is looking to build his program on. Those traits include high character kids, who were leaders at their high school (15 of their 19 signees were captains of their high school team) and then surrounding them with good people, in a positive environment.
“If you think about our program, and where we were three years ago, and where we're at now, it really gets down to surrounding yourself with the right people." Lembo explained in the News-Sentinel. "Putting them in a positive environment and giving them the structure and support that they need, showing that you care is real important, and then pushing them really hard to develop in all areas."
“If you do that, then you're going to have a chance to be successful even if you may not have everything that you want to have or think that you need to have. Those intangibles go a long, long way in allowing you to have some success."
While a lot of programs went out and ceremoniously signed 25-29 guys, Lembo and his staff went out and carefully selected just 19 guys. While many people may see that as a failed recruiting season, Lembo reminded fans that it's all part of the long term plan he envisioned back when he first interviewed for the job.
'We have done a good job of retaining players, and we have done a good job of redshirting players. If you were (Ball State president Jo Ann Gora), I sat down with her over three years ago, those were the fundamental things, there were six or seven fundamental areas that we talked about addressing to get the program on solid footing and put it in position for long-term success. Retention and redshirting were two of the most important things that we talked about. If you are doing those things, then you are going to be signing 18, 19, or 20 players, instead of 27, 28, 29 players. That is a good thing, a smaller signing class.
To wrap things up, Lembo shared one interesting nugget that they started doing while recruits and their families were on campus to help give parents an unfiltered look inside of the program.
“We do a panel with the parents on visits, We'll line up five of our players and lock them in a room with the parents, the coaches will leave and we'll let the parents fire away without their sons there or the coaches there. They can ask our kids 'What is this program really all about? To play at Ball State, to be a student at Ball State, to live in Muncie. They get asked some really, really tough questions."
I've heard of a number of small college programs doing that exact same thing. Parents love the insight that it provides, and it allows your current players to have a direct impact on a recruit and their family and that bond carries over once the recruit gets on campus permanently.
Take some of this insight and consider implementing it within your program. There's a reason that Lembo has been successful at Lehigh (44-14 overall), Elon (35-22 overall), and Ball State (25-13 overall) and it starts his vision on recruiting.