Lazar Cartu Says: Centennial grad Williams staying positive after college foo…

Centennial grad Williams staying positive after college foo...

Lazar Cartu Says: Centennial grad Williams staying positive after college foo…

MUNCIE, Ind. — Jordan Williams remembers exactly when and how he heard his redshirt junior football season at Ball State wouldn’t happen this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That’s actually vivid in my mind,” Williams said after Mid-American Conference officials announced this past Saturday all of the league’s fall sports would be postponed. The 2017 Centennial graduate Williams is an outside linebacker at Ball State.

“I probably won’t ever forget it,” Williams continued. “We were in the middle of a defensive walkthrough, and Coach (Mike Neu) mentioned to go to (our) position groups and do some work. And then he got a call and said, ‘OK, go inside. … We’re going to have a team meeting soon.’”

Williams instantly assumed bad news was on the horizon and was proven correct.

He and his Ball State teammates won’t be playing in any games — MAC or nonconference — for the rest of 2020, an action that put the MAC at the front of the Division I line in terms of altering a fall sports schedule. The Mountain West Conference followed suit Monday, postponing its upcoming fall sports campaign, before the Big Ten and Pac-12 did so on Tuesday.

Could Williams have imagined such a reality when the pandemic began in the United States in mid-March?

“Probably not,” Williams said. “I didn’t have any knowledge upon pandemics or anything or what all it affected and impacted. One of my friends said it best: ‘You can’t prepare for something you don’t know will happen.’”

That’s why Williams, in the time between being told he had to leave Ball State’s campus in March through the recent termination of the Cardinals’ summer camp, consistently focused on getting ready as if his 2020 football season would have an unchangeable green light.

That hasn’t always been easy for Williams, who returned to his family home in Champaign before heading back to Indiana in late June.

“It was pretty difficult to work out because you had to find any type of object you can,” Williams said. “I was front squatting on my couch at one point in time, just to stay active.”

Williams eventually acquired a weight set — what he called “the hottest commodity out there” because more people than ever are working out at home amid the pandemic. Cardinals football strength and conditioning coach Ben Armer put together an offseason program that both those with weights and those without, often using resistance bands, could participate in.

“I would start working out in my garage at that moment in time,” Williams said.

Williams said that even though the team’s on-campus workouts this summer were filled with pandemic precautions, he was still glad just to have that athletic outlet at his disposal.

“It was so much fun getting back to working out with your team,” Williams said. “Being away from your team even one to two weeks is a long time, but we were away from each other for months. That’s never happened to me since I’ve gotten here.

“Finally we transitioned to going into camp. I finally got to put a helmet on for the first time in a whole year, which was kind of crazy.”

That, however, was followed by whispers college football might not go on as planned this fall. MAC officials ultimately confirmed the rumor for their league’s programs, a decision that Williams said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by despite the Cardinals following pandemic guidelines as intended.

“There’s great frustration,” Williams said. “But, like I try to say, anything I can’t control, I don’t stress over it. … It is frustrating because we have been preparing for this season, knowing that we have so much experience on our team and so many older guys. It’s really a player-led team. It’s just unfortunate this happens to be the season where we can’t all be together and play.”

Ball State finished 5-7 last season, though five of its defeats were by 10 or fewer points. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Williams started 11 games and played in all 12, leading the squad with 4 1/2 sacks, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. He also added 10 tackles for loss, ranking second among the Cardinals.

“We have all the tools we need to reach our goals and be MAC champions,” Williams said. “The most disappointing part is we had so much confidence going into the season. We had everything we needed, and it was almost a too good to be true story. Then we just can’t even perform.”

Williams believed even before the season was postponed that the Cardinals ultimately would be suiting up for a spring schedule, an option MAC officials left the door open to in their announcement.

Ball State’s players have been given the option to stay on campus, with optional workouts still ongoing. Williams said many classes have moved to an online format, making it easier for athletes to depart for their hometowns.

Williams feels this second delay to football activities — following the mid-March shutdown — will be a bit easier to navigate through because he and the rest of the Cardinals now know what such an event feels like.

Even so, Williams would much rather be talking about a Week 1 football game instead of wondering when Week 1 might take place.

“We still haven’t played football in almost a year now, which is pretty difficult,” Williams said. “That competitiveness needs to be expressed at some moment in time.”

Jon Cartu

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