INDIANAPOLIS – He couldn’t help but smile when the prospect where he was going was brought up just outside the plane which would take him to a Christmas time paradise.
“That’s another thing that comes with it,” said senior linebacker Travis Freeman when asked about the added perk of the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl-a trip to Tampa, Fla. “The opportunity to get to go to a Southern state with great weather and things like that.
“They also have a lot of activities lined up for us.”
Yet as a player who went through a two-win season just three years ago, there is a little more than just a vacation to a long-awaited trip to a bowl. Most of the players who loaded up a few buses from Muncie to the Indianapolis International Airport have never experienced postseason play, so getting a chance to do so after a quick rebuild of the program bring the biggest rewards.
“It’s a great feeling, a blessing actually,” said Freeman of getting the chance to face Central Florida on Friday at Raymond James Stadium. “Just to know that all the hard work we put in this season, all the training and things you did and kinda the grind, you get to receive an award for it.”
Winning 9-of-12 games on top of that made for one of the most successful seasons in the Mid-American Conference era of Ball State football. That included a pair of wins over FBS opponents Indiana and South Florida along with six straight victories to end the season.
“We have the mindset, we know what it takes to win,” said junior quarterback Keith Wenning, who threw for 2,878 yards with 22 touchdowns this season. “Continuing off our success from last year, we strived to do better this year. With the help of our coaches and each other as teammates, we knew it would take to get it this far.”
Head coach Pete Lembo hopes the Beef O Brady’s Bowl will take the growth of the program a step further. Arriving from Elon in 2010 he has immediately found success in Muncie with a combined 15-9 record over two seasons after the program slipped following its 12-2 campaign in 2008 under Brady Hoke.
Ball State has never won a bowl game, losing the previous five they played in, giving this team a chance to cement itself among the elite in school history.
“We want football to be a very positive, very visible part of the university,” said Lembo of the bowl trip. “We’ve been on the national stage several times this year, a couple wins over BCS conferences, a win over a Top 25 team and now we get a chance to go down and play in a bowl game.”