By Mark Ambrogi
Mike Neu’s final game as a quarterback with Ball State ended with a loss to Utah State in the Las Vegas Bowl in 1993.
“I took that jersey off for the last time in Las Vegas, still to this day, it’s kind of an awful feeling in my gut,” said Neu, now the coach of his alma master. “I made sure to share that with our guys that if this is the last time you are putting on that uniform, you want to make sure when you are looking at the jersey hanging up in your house or man cave or business, make sure it has some great memories and the last time you put that jersey on make sure you make it count.”
His Cardinals did just that, winning their first bowl game in school history, beating No. 19 San Jose State 34-13 Dec. 31 in the Arizona Bowl. The Cardinals, who finished 7-1, had advanced by winning its first Mid-American Conference title in 24 years. The Cardinals won the West Division and upset East champion and then-No. 23 Buffalo 38-28 Dec. 18 in the Mid-American Conference championship game in Detroit.
“They will go down in history as one of the best teams in the history of our program,” said Neu, a 1989 Perry Meridian High School graduate. “It was good old-fashioned hard work and staying committed to each other.”
This was Neu’s fifth year as coach.
“When I came back to Ball State my vision was to win a conference championship, and once we get there to sustain success,” Neu said. “With the early struggles we had, I knew it was quite possible that day might not ever come. But I tried to stay positive and keep working hard. To be able to win a MAC championship at Ball State both as a player and a coach, I feel fortunate. Then to accomplish something that you definitely didn’t accomplish as a player, to win a bowl game for the first time in the history of the program. I feel fortunate to be part of that.”
Neu’s record his first four seasons was 15-33.
“Some of these guys were here for us during some really challenging days for us at Ball State,” Neu said. “The first two years I was here we were 1-15 in the conference. It’s a credit for these young men to stay together. It would have been easy for them to transfer and go look for some place better. They stuck it out and committed to hard work. We kept narrowing the gap in recruiting. In 2017, we couldn’t compete with any team in the conference. In 2018, we could compete with about half the teams. In 2019, we knew could compete with anybody. We lost three games in the conference by a combined eight points. That really motivated our guys in the off-season. The mantra established was Detroit or Bust.”
The following BSU football players graduated from Southside high schools: Lutheran: Emeka Jilliani, redshirt sophomore,
DL; Roncalli: Brandon Berger, freshman linebacker, John Harris, redshirt freshman, defensive line; and Tony Schott, redshirt sophomore, linebacker; Franklin Central: Kendal Kendrick, redshirt junior, DL; Southport: Ryan Lezon, freshman, TE; Eddie Schott, redshirt freshman, QB; Scecina: Patrick Lyons, redshirt freshman, offensive line (Beech Grove resident); Center Grove: Ethan Crowe, freshman, OL, and Trevor Hohlt, redshirt junior, wide receiver