Jack Sape plays most games without his entire family sitting in the bleachers. Growing up in Michigan, it’s difficult for his extended family to make consistent trips to Ball State to watch him play on the defensive line. Each homecoming game, however, is an exception.
For the past five years and counting, it's been a tradition for Sape’s family to go out to dinner after games and spend time in Muncie together with Sape and his friends. Beyond his parents, who attend almost every game, his sisters and some extended family also visit him on Ball State football’s homecoming game day.
“It means the world knowing that people will drive five to six hours to come see you play on homecoming,” Sape said.
Sape also enjoys seeing Ball State University alumni return for the homecoming game and always looks forward to reconnecting with past players.
“I've been fortunate enough to play with six different groups of seniors; this being the last one,” Sape said. “Seeing those guys that I came up with when I was younger in the program, it’s cool.”
Sape described the relationships he’s made with players over the years as lifelong bonds between brothers. Ones so strong that even when alumni walk away from the field for good, they’ll return to see their past teammates play at Scheumann Stadium in a significant home game.
“Age is just a number in football because you can be playing with someone when you’re younger; you can be 18 and they can be 22,” Sape said. “It’s always good seeing them come back and show support and try to get a win for them because they laid the groundwork for where our program is today.”
As both a player and graduate student studying business administration, Sape said he takes life one day at a time, which helps him stay disciplined and manage time as an athlete, student and person. As a veteran of both college academics and football, he’s discovered his main priorities at Ball State.
During his earlier years, he experienced the fear of missing out on other social activities he couldn’t do due to football. But knowing having fun with friends outside of the season will always be around after Sape finishes football helps him remain focused on playing.
“You can party whenever you want,” Sape said. “You only get one shot at playing football.”
Similarly to Sape, junior business administration major and offensive lineman Ethan Crowe learned through being a student athlete the importance of managing school and athletics effectively.
“The last thing you want to be doing is be up late at night because of homework assignments, and you go into practice with less sleep at night,” Crowe said.
Crowe said he usually finishes his homework right before the end of the week, which helps him focus his mind and body on each big game. When it comes to homecoming, he said he treats it as another opponent Ball State needs to beat to reduce the pressure heading into the game.
After the homecoming game, Crowe normally hangs out with friends and goes to a restaurant in Muncie with his family. He also spends time with past players after the game, and during it, he uses their attendance as motivation to perform at his best as a football player.
“Playing in front of colleagues, it’s fun so they can see ‘Hey, this kid’s gotten a lot better,’ and they can see how I’ve grown since the last time I’ve seen them,” Crowe said.
For fifth-year general studies major and defensive lineman John Harris, his biggest focus each homecoming week is on winning the game. Right afterward, however, it’s about spending quality time with his family and seeing his infant nephew.
Traditionally, families, including his, tailgate together, and some of Harris’ friends and teammates join him after the game in tailgating with familiar faces.
“I’m blessed to be from an hour and a half away, but a lot of us on the team are from hours and hours away,” Harris said. “So for them, to have a meal and have a conversation [and] catch up with people that you might not have seen in months because we're playing ball [is great].”
When it comes to loved ones, Harris claimed it’s important to separate football from family. He also believes there is time for players to focus on all areas of their lives depending on what’s most important at the given moment.
“Once you walk into the facility, there’s nothing more important than football, and once you leave the facility, it’s whatever is most important… whether that’s family, school or getting back into the facility to take care of yourself,” Harris said.
While players might be too busy with football to enjoy consistently hanging out with others during homecoming week, Harris seeks more fulfillment through victory anyway.
“What’s more fun, and what’s better, is winning on Saturday,” Harris said.