BY JACK KIZER | Ball State Sports Link
The numbers — 7.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles.
These three statistics summarize the story of senior defensive and Anthony Winbush’s season thus far. He leads the nation in all three categories and has been a dominant force for Ball State’s defensive line to say the least.
“I’m pretty relentless,” Winbush said. “I make sure I play every play like it’s my last and play every snap like I need to go out and make a play. So, I feel like that really accounts to me being relentless.”
Dominance, however, isn’t always achieved alone. Winbush attributes his success to his teammates.
“The team has come together with the communication from the linebackers, and our backfield is doing a really good job this year of covering. So, that little extra second that they give, I’m able to use to get to the quarterback.”
Winbush’s remarkable ability to consistently make plays in the backfield dates back to his time at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis. Along with earning all-state and all-conference honors, he totaled 10 sacks as a senior.
Winbush has yet to reach double digit sacks in a single season, but has lead the team the last two years (5 in 2015, 8.5 in 2016). He’s on pace for 20+ this season — a mark that has only been reached by 13 players in college football history.
So, what does a fall weekend consist of for one of college football’s dominant athletes? Here’s how Anthony Winbush gets Dialed In.
Friday, September 22nd:
A Chick-Fil-A sandwich, nuggets, banana, chips and a cookie are Winbush’s choice of food prior to boarding Team Bus 2 after practice. Next stop, Western Kentucky University. The entire defense rides together, but the seat next to Winbush remains empty. Defensive back Nik Giles is seated behind him, while fellow defensive lineman Akeem Hutchinson sits across the aisle. This was the seating arrangement for the bus ride to Illinois week one, and the players don’t want to change it up.
The trip starts with something Winbush typically doesn’t find outside of the classroom — a test. Defensive Line Coach Keith McKenzie gives the exam to all the defensive linemen to reinforce the week’s game preparation.
The test-takers have the entire five-hour bus ride to complete it, but Winbush completes it within the first 10 minutes. After discussing the coverages and alignments from the test with the rest of the defensive position groups, it’s time to unwind. Football isn’t the only game he dominates.
“We were all playing Uno on the iMessage games. I won two times, let that be noted. I usually beat up on Josh Miller a lot, but he’s used to it by now. There’s a lot of communication with the team and builds good chemistry.”
Next, it’s time for the traditional movie screened for all the players. On tap for this week is Cool Runnings. The story of the Jamaican bobsledders entertains Winbush, but he elects to take a nap after it concludes. Batman comes on next, and despite Bruce Wayne being his favorite superhero, Winbush can’t help but close his eyes.
When he wakes up, it’s 4 p.m. CT and the buses have arrived at the hotel, approximately 20 minutes away from Western Kentucky’s campus.
As he exits the bus, Winbush hands his test to Coach McKenzie and heads up to his hotel room with defensive end Reggie McGee. After dropping their luggage off, the team meets Strength and Conditioning Coach Ben Armer to stretch due to five hours of dormancy.
To the delight of Winbush and the team, dinner time comes next. The entire defensive line sits down together and digs in. Winbush gorges on steak, chicken, potatoes, broccoli and a cookie.
Once their stomachs are filled, meetings ensue for Winbush with the defensive line and defense as a whole. Coaches answer any final questions the players have and continue to drill preparation material into their minds. While some players stand up to speak during the final meeting of the night, Winbush chooses to sit back and simply listen.
It’s been a long day, so when McGee and Winbush finally get back up to their room, they relax on their phones. Because phones aren’t allowed during team meetings, Winbush catches up with the latest buzz on social media and talks to his dad. Finally, it’s 11 p.m. and the time has come for Winbush to get some shut eye.
“I like to get a good rest before a game in. It gets my mind right and gets me settled in. I always sleep well, too. I just bury myself in the covers and I’m gone. I’m a huge sleeper; sometimes the coaches don’t really like that.”
Based on his dominant performance on the field, Winbush’s sleeping pattern works quite well.
Saturday: September 24th
Gameday. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m., so there’s no need for any of the players to rise too early. Winbush, however, forgets to turn off his weekly alarm set for 6:30am. Since he’s already awake, he decides to stroll downstairs to the hotel lobby for breakfast. He’s unfortunately informed that the breakfast is not complimentary, and he must wait until 11:25 a.m. for the breakfast provided by the team. Saddened, Winbush returns to his room and falls back asleep until 10.
More meetings with Head Coach Mike Neu, Coach McKenzie and the entire defensive unit start at 10:30 a.m. to run through the game plan and communication one final time. When 11:25 rolls around, it’s finally time for the official team breakfast. Not nearly as much food ends up on Winbush’s plate as the night before. A mere two chicken breasts and bagel is all he eats in fear that he will become too full and vomit during the game.
After breakfast, Winbush and McGee return to their room to play on their phones more and relax. A few minutes before 2:30 p.m., they walk down with their bags to load the buses departing for Jimmy Feix Field. The team rolls up at approximately 3 p.m. Winbush immediately darts for the locker room to set down his belongings and be first in line to get his ankles taped. He then plugs in his headphones, turns up Kendrick Lamar and walks out onto the field.
“I just listen to my music and walk around. I don’t really do any warming up. I just like to see the opponents field, get myself ready for the game and not stress at all.”
Winbush is loose, confident and has a simple mindset.
“My mindset is to just do my assignment and win honestly. That’s my goal for every game — just to do my job and make sure I don’t go outside of myself. I just want to make sure I help the team win. That’s what I take pride in, just doing my part.”
The loose pregame process continues in the locker room for Winbush. After putting on his pads and checking to make sure he has his socks on the correct feet, he dances with Nik Giles and a host of other teammates to blaring music. The dance party is interrupted as it’s time for team warmups.
Winbush runs out and waves to his brother, two nieces, dad and stepmom who all made the trip from the east side of Indianapolis to see him play. Following the thankful gesture to his family, his mind goes blank and he gets dialed in.
Winbush and the defensive line first practice rushing the quarterback and countering pass protections they may see during the game. The offensive line then comes over so that both sides get more realistic reps. The team re-enters the locker room and gather around Coach Neu. In his usual optimistic tone, Neu expresses his belief in the team and urges them to play this game like it’s their last.
Ball State takes the field inspired. After reaching the sideline, Winbush finds Sean Hammonds, McGee and the other defensive linemen to perform their unique handshake that Winbush developed in his high school years.
Hammonds, McGee, and Winbush perform a short special dance as well, exemplifying the tight relationship he has with his teammates.
“I’m closest with D-Line, but as a whole defense, we’re all close really. I could talk to any one of those guys about anything which is pretty cool.”
Right before kickoff, the final tradition of Winbush’s pregame process occurs. Defensive tackle John Swisher, 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, comes over and throws his fists down onto Winbush’s pads to get him fired up. Hype now swirls through his entire body.
“I’m definitely more hype than nervous knowing I know what to do and know my job.”
At last, it’s gametime.
Western Kentucky 33 Ball State 21
With multiple star players out with injury during the game, Ball State fights hard, but is unable to pull out the win. Winbush attracts extra attention from Western Kentucky’s offensive line all game and is unable to reach the quarterback until the fourth quarter, when he records a 3-yard sack.
Following the game, Winbush is frustrated, thinking about what he could have done better as he walks back to the locker room. He makes an internal vow to help improve his performance.
“I told myself that I wouldn’t let getting tired get in the way of us winning. So, in my mind I just planned on what I was going to do when I got back home to build my cardio up.”
Winbush reaches the locker room and listens to Coach Neu talk about coming back next week and starting fresh. He then takes a mandatory shower and leaves the locker room to meet his family.
“It’s really good to see some nice faces after the game when everyone else is down.”
Winbush gives out hugs, says goodbye and boards the bus. He sleeps most of the way back to take his mind off of the frustration still present. The team buses arrive back in Muncie at 4 a.m. ET. Winbush drives home and crawls immediately into bed to resume his sleep.
A difficult game still brought another sack for Winbush. His statistics may change each game, but staying loose, staying confident, and staying relentless do not.
Anthony Winbush is always dialed in on being dominant.