As a 12 year old growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin hockey was everything. So when Ben Armer turned on a VHS tape of hockey legend, Wayne Gretzky demonstrating the importance of weight training, he knew the words coming out of “The Great One’s” mouth were significant.
“I went down, got my dad’s weight set from 1970-whatever and started lifting weights,” Armer said. “Probably incorrectly, I was probably too young to start, I didn’t care.”
17 years later, Armer finds himself in the John W. and Janice B. Fisher Football Training Complex demonstrating that same importance of weight training to the Ball State football team.
Familiar with the MAC
In the midst of his second season as head strength and conditioning coach for the football team, Armer is no stranger to the Mid-American Conference.
After receiving a Division-I football offer to be a punter at Western Michigan, the three-sport athlete began his first of nearly nine years (and counting) spent as a player and coach in the MAC.
“It was my only opportunity to play at the highest level, but I think when you are younger and probably stupid in my case, everybody always thinks they’re going to the NFL,” Armer said.
He said he struggled with the fact that his role as a punter was “one dimensional.” That’s when the weight room became his best friend.
“I kind of took the weight room on as a way to keep my teammates challenged and make me feel like I was doing enough to help the team,” Armer said. “It was kind of a way for me to earn respect from my teammates at the time.”
Armer graduated in 2012 earning Academic All-MAC honors three straight years and was named to the All-MAC third-team selection in 2009.
It wasn’t until his junior year of college that he realized he wanted to make a career out of his passion for strength training instead of business management.
“I was like, I can’t sit at a desk for 30 years,” Armer said. “I want to be on the floor, I want to be moving around.”
After interning for then Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck, Armer attended a one-day strength and conditioning clinic at Ball State with then head strength and conditioning coach, David Feely.
Only three coaches showed up to the clinic. Two left at lunchtime, so Armer used that opportunity to learn one-on-one from Feeley. Armer then received a call less than two years later from Feeley, offering him a position as a graduate assistant.
Feeley said he immediately knew Armer was a smart coach.
“He’s one of the strongest strength coaches I ever met anywhere in America,” Feeley said. “When you have somebody that can understand what the athletes are going through physically and then being able to prescribe it scientifically, he’s the best scientist and artist that you can hope to have running a weight room.”
With traits of a scientist and an artist, Feeley said Armer is that methodical in his weight room.
“He’s basically taking care of somebody’s baby,” Feeley said. “Just knowing who he is, and how methodical he is on planning … he plans scientifically, but also personally.”
If it wasn’t apparent enough already how highly Feeley thought of Armer, the greatest compliment that Feeley gave him was recommending him to Ball State football head coach Mike Neu to take his place when Feeley left to become the assistant strength and conditioning football coach at South Carolina.
“I brought him in and I was like ‘oh my gosh, I feel like I was talking to the same guy [Feeley] just different hair,’” Neu said. “His passions, his intensity, and his organization was very detailed and we believed obviously in the same things.”
Most young coaches would be over the moon to receive an offer to be part of a Division-I coaching job. He was, but he didn’t take the job because of that fact.
“This was a great opportunity, but I think I’ve learned from enough good mentors of mine to know that you have to be in a good enough situation to take a job on,” Armer said. “If you don’t have the right culture created, you’re not going to have a job for long.”
Neu’s culture was one he wanted to be a part of as he liked the family aspect that the Ball State football program portrayed.
“Every coach he [Neu] brought in replicated that same type of passion that same type of energy,” Armer said.
Most of all, Armer took this job because he loves MAC football and prides himself in witnessing the hard work his players put in transpire to the field.
One of those guys is cornerback Josh Miller. The redshirt junior started summer workouts at 170 pounds. Now, 10 pounds heavier, — which Armer knows doesn’t seem like much — he’s watched Miller grow faster and stronger on a day-to-day basis.
“More than anything it’s the intangibles that he brings now,” Armer said. “The toughness, the confidence and the attitude that he has is contagious around the entire team.”
Miller knows he’s bigger and stronger now. He credits Armer — even if it hasn’t always been enjoyable.
“If he see’s me not going 110 percent, then he’ll let me know,” Miller said. “You’re slacking today, or hey, I thought you wanted to be great type of thing,” are all phrases Armer throws at Miller during workouts if he’s not up to standard.
Senior defensive lineman Anthony Winbush — FBS leader in sacks and five away from claiming the all-time career Ball State sacks record — knows not to slack off in the weight room, even if he’s not getting the immediate results he wants. Slacking off is unacceptable to Armer.
“It’s very high energy, if it’s not high energy things do not go well,” Winbush said. “He [Armer] has a protocol in the weight room. If it’s not up to his standards, it’s not going to be a good day.”
Those standards are high, but when it’s his job to whip Division-I MAC football players into shape, it’s a necessity.
“This is where I want to be,” Armer said. “I love this level of college football. It’s blue collar and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Contact Elizabeth Wyman with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @_ElizabethWyman.