When senior safety Bryce Cosby takes the field for the Cardinals Dec. 31 in Tucson, Arizona, he’ll have the same mentality he had when he first stepped on the gridiron this season in Oxford, Ohio.
Heading into Ball State’s matchup against San Jose State in this year’s Arizona Bowl, Cosby said he is staying in “championship mode.”
“We just show up to work every day,” Cosby said. “I think that mentality has helped us tough out some wins and play hard for four quarters. That was definitely the mindset going into the [MAC] Championship, and we sort of just carried that mindset everywhere we go.”
Cosby said he’s treated each game this season as a championship game, so he doesn’t feel too starstruck or caught up in the moment when it’s time for him to play on the big stage.
“If we prepare, if we practice, if we lift,” Cosby said, “if we do everything we need to do on a championship level, it doesn’t matter who we line up against or the magnitude of the game.”
Cosby was a freshman in 2017 when Ball State finished 2-10 and failed to defeat any of its MAC opponents. The Cardinals improved to 4-8 in 2018 and 5-7 in 2019, Cosby’s junior season, which he said was a turning point in his development.
Coming into 2020, Cosby said, he knew the Cardinals were a championship-caliber team, which helped him develop his current mentality. Reminiscing on his freshman season, though, Cosby said the adversities he experienced early in his Cardinal career made winning that much more meaningful to him.
“We didn’t know the sacrifices that needed to be made,” Cosby said. “We didn’t know what winning was at the collegiate level. We can’t blame ourselves for what we didn’t know at the time versus what we know now.”
Following Ball State’s 38-28 win over Buffalo in the MAC Championship game Dec. 18, head coach Mike Neu described his mindset approaching the game as “Ball State against the world.” Senior wide receiver Justin Hall said that idea came from everyone on the team having an underdog-like mentality, which is how they’ve approached every game this season.
“Of course, we’re always going to feel like the underdogs, but that’s what we’ve been proving week in and week out,” Hall said. “We’ve just got to prove it in this bowl game and end the season right.”
Along with Cosby, Hall was a freshman when Ball State finished 2-10 in 2017. Despite earning All-MAC Second Team honors, Hall said he felt disappointed following his first season and would have never imagined the Cardinals would play in a bowl game just three years later.
However, the Cardinals have reached that goal and are planning to seize the opportunity in Arizona, which will mark the farthest west Ball State has played since its appearance in the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl. Like Cosby, Hall has also viewed each game this season as a championship.
“We’re looking at a win,” Hall said. “We don’t travel to get our asses beat.”
Despite the challenges he faced his freshman season, Hall said he knew he wouldn’t graduate from Ball State without becoming a MAC champion. He has now accomplished just that, and while he said he took some time to savor the program’s first conference title in 24 years, his focus has shifted to San Jose State.
“We can’t accomplish the big things if we don’t take care of the little things,” Hall said. “We’ve just got to keep talking to everybody about the little things and keep practicing hard.”
Neu, who played quarterback for Ball State from 1989-93 and played in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl, said he knows the Cardinals have a chance to make history with a win over the Spartans for the program’s first-ever bowl victory.
However, he is not letting that get in the way of his game preparation. Neu said he is not viewing this game differently from any other, just like his players.
“I know it is a reward to go to a bowl game and have a bowl experience,” Neu said. “That is awesome, but there is a game to be played. There’s a win and loss at stake, so when you have that, you’ve got to make sure you regain focus. The attention to detail has to be there.”