During the offseason last summer, there was a possibility that Dedrick Cromartie would redshirt.

As a true freshman free safety for the Ball State football team that was buried on the depth chart, he wasn’t sure what his role would be. It was possible he would play, but head coach Pete Lembo tries to redshirt as many freshmen as possible.

Lembo considered redshirting Cromartie, or giving him playing time on special teams. Ultimately, he decided to give Cromartie a chance, allowing him to see the field as a freshman.

Because of injuries at the free safety position, he saw much more time than expected, starting three games during the second half of the season.

“I wasn’t expecting to be starting, but with [all the injuries] we’ve needed guys to step up,” Cromartie said. “I’m a locked in player. I’m focused, and I think I’ve been doing an exceptional job.”

Saying the Cardinals needed players to step up is an understatement. Cromartie was the fourth free safety to start for Ball State in the first seven weeks of the season, after Dae’Shaun Hurley, Martez Hester and Gilbert Stlouis all went down with injuries.

Cromartie said he didn’t want to be redshirted, but he wasn’t expecting to start. He wanted to contribute on special teams, but there was nothing easy about making the transition from high school to college football.

Like many players, one of the hardest aspects was the increased speed of the game. Players who enter a college program as freshmen are used to being all stars in high school. Suddenly, all other players are just as talented as them, if not more.

“The process has been fast, it took me a while to adjust to the faster game and bigger opponents,” Cromartie said. “When your number is called, you have to be able to get the job done.”

Adding to the struggles of competing with better athletes was battling homesickness. Cromartie moved away from home in St. Louis, Mo., graduating from DeSmet High School, the same high school redshirt junior wide receiver KeVonn Mabon came from.

“The hardest part was having to adjust to not being able to go home and see my parents,” he said. “Being completely independent and being on my own.”

Without his family to look out for him, Cromartie looked up to teammates Brian Jones, Hurley, Hester and the rest of the defensive backs.

It worked, as he finished the season with 43 tackles and two interceptions. He’s made a name for himself as a fast defender who hits hard and has flashed playmaking ability in his limited time.

Lembo said although it’s unlikely he’ll start next season as injured players become healthy, he wants him to continue having a role on the team.

“For a 178-pound true freshman, who over the summer was going through homesickness and everything else, that kid’s done some pretty darn good things,” Lembo said. “He’s shown that he can be fearless, and he’s shown that he has a bright future ahead of him.”

A future that most likely doesn’t include being redshirted.