Experience Means Something: A Look At Football’s Returning Starters

BY ANDREW WILLETT | Ball State Sports Link

After months of shutdowns, inactivity, uncertainty and cancellations — Ball State football is back. 

When it comes to Cardinal football this season, expectations are high.  A team that comes into the season with depth and experience, including 16 returning starters, always expects to do well and this season is no different for Ball State.

This year’s team has set the bar for themselves with its season motto: “D.O.B.” (Detroit or Bust). 

The following is Ball State’s returning starters in 2020.

Offensive Returning Starters

Drew Plitt - Football - Ball State University Athletics

Drew Plitt, Quarterback

The seven returning starters on offense start with the leader, redshirt senior Drew Plitt. Plitt is entering his final year coming off of nearly 3000 yards passing and 29 total touchdowns this past year where he was Ball State’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year.  Last year, Plitt led an offense that was tops in the MAC in scoring and total offense. The star quarterback comes into this season 8th place all-time for Ball State in passing yards and as a Manning Award Candidate.  Plitt will look to make his way up the rankings and cement his place in Ball State Football History.

Kaleb Slaven, Offensive Line

Slaven is a redshirt senior, who returns having been a starter each of his previous three seasons. Last season, Slaven started 10 games, while missing two through injury.  He helped Ball State rush for more than 200 yards in 7 of 8 MAC games, and he will no doubt continue to be a huge piece as long as he can stay healthy protecting Drew Plitt’s blindside.

Luke Martin, Offensive Line

Next to Slaven at the left guard position on the offensive line is Luke Martin. The redshirt sophomore is one of the rare underclassmen on the returning starters list.  He played in three of Ball State’s last four games in 2018, including taking over left tackle duties for Slaven in the last two weeks of the season. Martin was a big part of Ball State’s success running the football last season as he started the first eight games at left guard before going down with injuries to end the 2019 season.  Despite being a younger player, he will continue to bring experience and success to Ball State’s offensive line.

Curtis Blackwell, Offensive Line
Another returning starter for Ball State on the offensive line is senior, Curtis Blackwell.  Blackwell plays right guard and has been a main-stay for the last two years on the Cardinal line. He comes into this season looking for more, after earning MAC All-Conference Third Team honors a season ago.

Caleb Huntley, Running Back

The man behind Plitt, is Maxwell and Doak Walker Candidate, Caleb Huntley.  The senior running back enters this season after being a huge part of Ball State’s prolific offense and as Ball State’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year, alongside Plitt.  He sits at ninth all-time on Ball State’s career rushing ranks with 2465 yards on the ground.  This past season, Huntley rushed for 1275 yards and rushed for more than 1000 yards for the second time in his three-year career, after being 1 of 2 Cardinal rushers to ever run for 1000 yards as a freshman.  Huntley will continue to provide a rushing attack to round out Plitt’s passing game and power this well balanced offense.

Justin Hall, Wide Receiver

At wide receiver for the Cardinals, Justin Hall will be returning as a well decorated senior.  He has earned MAC All-Conference honors each season for the Cardinals and will look to continue his greatness in 2020. Hall sits at fifth all-time on Ball State’s receptions list and tenth All-Time in receiving yards coming into the year and he has caught a pass or more in 36 straight games.  Hall plays a big role in the Cardinal offense as he has led the team in receptions for 34 of his 36 career games.  He will continue to bring a lot of pedigree, experience, and talent to the receiver position for Ball State, in what should be an exciting final season for the wideout.

Antwan Davis, Wide Receiver

Our next returning starter started at receiver for Ball State in all 12 games last season and finished third on the team in receptions and receiving yards after breaking his foot in the first game and missing the entire season the year before. The redshirt senior transfer from Lincoln University played in 11 games as a sophomore for Ball State. Davis passed 1000 career yards this past year and will be competing for a sixth year in college athletics thanks to an extension from the NCAA in August of 2019.  The senior receiver brings experience, skill, and work ethic to this year’s Cardinals, as he won the Ball State Paul Schudel Strength and Conditioning Award during his junior campaign.

Defensive Returning Starters

James Jennette III, Defensive End

James Jennette III plays a huge role for Ball State, as the defensive end.  He is coming into this season after starting all 12 games last season for the defense. As a redshirt freshman, he played in 5 games off the bench, as a sophomore he played all 12 and recorded 12 solo tackles, before starting in every game during his junior year where he made 21 solo tackles.  Last season, he led the team in tackles for loss, and was tied for second on the team with 3.5 sacks.  He continues to improve year after year, and is the big man on Ball State’s defensive line.

Jordan Williams, Linebacker

At the outside linebacker position, Williams started in eleven of twelve games last season and appeared in every single one. As a redshirt freshman, he played in eleven games both as a linebacker and with some special teams reps. Stepping up to being a starter last season, Williams led the team with 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries, and was second on the team in tackles for loss, with ten. Williams will be another returning Cardinal with some experience and will be key to the Ball State defense this season.

Linebacker Jaylin Thomas “Grows Up” at Notre Dame - Ball State University  Athletics

Jaylin Thomas, Linebacker

The inside linebacker spot is filled by redshirt senior, Jaylin Thomas. Thomas enters his third year as a starter for the Cardinals, starting 8 of 12 games in 2018, and every game in 2019 after appearing off the bench in 10 games as a freshman.  Last season, Thomas was a critical piece for the Cardinals, finishing second on the team with 97 tackles, including a career best 14 against Central Michigan.  He also made his 200th career tackle last season as well as earning MAC All-Conference 3rd Team last year.

Christian Albright - Football - Ball State University Athletics

Christian Albright, Linebacker

Christian Albright is another returning starter on the defense that completes a linebacker trio full of experience.  As a freshman, Albright saw experience at defensive end before moving to outside linebacker during his sophomore and junior years where he started every single game.  Albright finished third on the team with two sacks as a redshirt freshman, led the team with 5.5 as a sophomore, and most recently had 3.5 sacks in his junior season. This past season, he led the team in tackles for loss, quarterback hurries, and forced fumbles. Albright also recorded a sack in 4 of 8 games for the Cardinals to earn MAC All-Conference Third Team. The senior linebacker is a menace and will keep bringing the pressure to the opposing team’s offense.

Antonio Phillips - Football - Ball State University Athletics

Antonio Phillips, Cornerback

At the cornerback position, the senior, Antonio Phillips, leads one of the best position groups for Ball State this season. He has been an impactful player for the Cardinal defense every year of his career, earning three starts as a freshman, seven as a sophomore, and all 11 games he played in as a junior.  He tied the team lead with two interceptions as a sophomore, but really stepped up as a junior, as he placed second in the MAC with four interceptions as well as earning MAC All-Conference First Team. Phillips also won Ball State’s Ray Louthen Award for most improved back in 2018 and is on the watch for the Thorpe Award. Phillips has high hopes for the defensive backs and this football team in his senior year, and he will no doubt play a big role on the field and as a leader.

Bryce Cosby - Football - Ball State University Athletics

Bryce Cosby, Safety

Another senior bringing experience for the Cardinals is safety, Bryce Cosby.  Cosby has been a consistent part of the Ball State defense for his entire career, starting 35 of his 36 career games, being Mr. Reliable for Coach Neu and his team.  Even from when he was a true freshman, Cosby has been very successful, making 59 tackles, good for second on the team as a freshman to go along with two interceptions to lead the team.  As a sophomore, he picked off two passes to tie with Antonio Phillips to lead the team, and he also had 2 last year. Cosby has also been an impressive leader in the classroom, earning MAC Academic All-Conference in 2018 and 2019.  Following last season where he was 4th on the team in tackles with 78 and second on the team with five pass break-ups, Cosby returns more experience and pedigree to the Ball State defense. 

Amechi Uzodinma II, Cornerback

Amechi Uzodinma II - Football - Ball State University Athletics

Amechi Uzodinma II has played in every game in his first two years as a Cardinal, including 15 starts, 11 of which came last season.  He nabbed one interception as a freshman that appeared on SportsCenter’s Top Ten Plays the next day, and 5 as a sophomore, to not only lead the team over teammate Antonio Phillips, but to lead the entire MAC Conference. He finished the season up with two interceptions against MAC winners, Miami (OH). This earned him MAC All-Conference 2nd Team honors last year. This season, with the expectations up, Uzodinma is ready to work.

Special Teams Returning Starters

Nathan Snyder, Punter

Ball State’s special teams is also bringing the experience even though they are bringing on a new kicker. Senior punter Nathan Snyder has made an impact since his arrival at Ball State in 2017, splitting time in the final five games recording 12 punts within the 20 yard line and only three touchbacks.  As a sophomore, he played all twelve games, serving as a holder for field goals. This past year, he was the team’s main punter and holder, where he finished the season fifth in MAC action with 11 punts of 50 yards or more, and 16 punts within the 20-yard line again with only three touchbacks.

Joseph Greenwood, Long Snapper

The last returning starter for Ball State is long snapper, Joseph Greenwood. He served as the team’s long snapper on both field goals and punts and will do so again in 2020.

Author: Andrew Willett