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Ball State’s Columbus quartet working to find playing time

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A common theme runs through the four Columbus natives on the Ball State University football team.

The quartet of juniors have all had to overcome some sort of adversity. None of the four saw significant playing time last season after three saw some action in 2012.

Columbus North graduates Kyle Kamman, Keenan Noel and Chris Shillings and Columbus East grad Tyler Rayburn are hoping all that adversity is behind them as they prepare for the 2014 season.

“They’ve each had to deal with adversity during their careers, and they’ve all handled it,” Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. “It speaks to the character of these guys and their families that they’ve been able to forge ahead. That will prepare them for successful futures after Ball State.”

Lembo and the Columbus four are engaged in the present at the moment, and that means getting ready for the Aug. 30 opener against Colgate. Lembo said Noel has the best chance among the group to see significant action and is slated to start at nose tackle.

“I’m just trying to get better and better at the little things,” Noel said. “The new defensive coordinator (Kevin Kelly) and new D-line coach (Nick Siatras) have helped me get better to where I can play a big role. The coach has done everything throughout the winter to get us ready for the summer and in the summer to get us ready for now.

The 6-foot-1, 257-pound Noel, who played in all 13 games at defensive end in 2012 before missing all but Ball State’s bowl game last season, was a quarterback at the beginning of his high school career.

“Keenan is a great story,” Lembo said. “He was a guy that was verbally committed to Ball State when I got hired. We kept recruiting him and his family.

“He came in as a fullback/tight end-type body, and we were so thin on the defensive line that year that we needed a body,” he said. “We asked him if he’d be interested in moving, and he embraced the idea. Since then, he’s had some adversity, but we’re excited about what he can do this year and that he has another year after this.”

Shillings played in 11 games in 2012, catching four passes for 51 yards. He played in four games last season before suffering a shin fracture. Doctors went in through his knee and put a titanium rod in his shin.

“It’s still a (recovery) process,” Shillings said. “After you have surgery, you have kinks here and there. But I’m glad I’m able to play again.”

The 6-1, 206-pound Shillings was granted a medical redshirt season, meaning he still has two years of eligibility remaining.

“We’re really glad he was awarded a medical redshirt year,” Lembo said. “Chris has been taking our 1 snaps as our third receiver in our three-

receiver sets, and we expect him to contribute both on offense and special teams again.”

“Individually, I want to have my best year here,” Shillings said. “I want to make a big contribution to the offense. I want to have a breakout year and be a big difference and a valuable asset for the team.”

Kamman entered camp this year in a four-way battle to replace three-year starter and Baltimore Ravens sixth-round draft pick Keith Wenning at quarterback. Kamman actually started the final game of the 2012 regular season when Wenning was injured.

“When I played as a freshman it was pretty unexpected,” Kamman said. “Being behind a guy like Keith, being able to learn from him was good for me. Now is when I feel prepared and confident in what I can do. Obviously, I want to play.”

The 6-0, 185-pound Kamman was the Cardinals’ third-string quarterback last season. Ozzie Mann, now a junior, was the backup, and is the frontrunner to win this year’s starting job.

“We’re trying to get guys reps and see who works well with who,” Kamman said. “Ozzie is doing a great job, along with Jack (Milas) and Dave (Morrison). They’re all taking what comes to them. They’re playing smart, and I’m doing what I do well, which is manage the game.”

Lembo said Kamman has been taking snaps with both the second- and third-teams.

“The biggest thing we challenged him to do as a quarterback was to get bigger and stronger to try to add some more zip to his throws,” Lembo said. “That’s still a work in progress, but you can see that he’s gotten better. Kyle is a very charismatic kid and is well liked by his teammates and is great to be around.”

Kamman did see action as the holder for field goals and extra points for the first four games of last season.

“Kyle Kamman is a great story,” Lembo said. “Like Keenan and Chris, Kyle has had some adversity, too. He started last year as our holder, and he had some adversity, and Keith Wenning took over as the holder the rest of the season. But to his credit, Kyle is back as our holder this season.”

“I’m going to do everything I can to help the team,” Kamman said. “I’m just going to keep working hard, and I’ll be ready for whatever is thrown at me.”

Rayburn, an offensive guard, got his first taste of action last year on special teams. But then he tore an ACL in practice prior to the bowl game.

“Tyler Rayburn is another guy that’s had to deal with some adversity,” Lembo said. “He’s had to come back from that, and it’s been a slow journey back from him. He’s starting to work himself back in practice.”

Lembo said the 6-3, 299-pound Rayburn hasn’t taken any team reps yet this year, but is doing some fundamental work.

“I’m trying to work my way back up the depth chart,” Rayburn said. “This camp has been more mental than anything. I’m trying to get this ACL better. I’m just waiting for my opportunity and for my knee to get healed back to full strength.”

Rayburn is involved with Athletes in Action, a campus ministry at Ball State.

“Tyler is a great kid,” Lembo said. “He’s very well respected by his teammates. He’s very active off the field.”

Lembo praised North coach Tim Bless and East coach Bob Gaddis.

“We’ve put a great emphasis on recruiting in the state of Indiana since we’ve arrived here 3 ½ years ago, and it’s been nice to get a chunk of kids from Columbus,” Lembo said. “When you think about guys like coach Bless, coach Gaddis, those are guys that have embraced our open-door policy and come and talked with our staffs. We certainly appreciate the relationship that we have with those guys.”

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