Ball State football's offseason was all about the future.
The Cardinals had the second-best recruiting class in the Mid-American Conference, hired a new defensive coordinator and one future Ball State player even saw the future.
But for the returning players, the first day of spring practice brought a chance to solidify their roles.
"The last thing you want to do is read about how they've got this great class coming in, they've got this great group of wide receivers coming in," head coach Mike Neu said. "Well, it's their job now. It's their opportunity right now to get reps."
With the loss of KeVonn Mabon, who set a Ball State record with 244 career receptions, the returning wide receivers are looking to step up and fill the void.
"It's a lot of production that's got to be made up, and somebody's got to do it," senior receiver Jordan Hogue said. "It's going to be a group effort."
Hogue started five games last season, recording 20 catches for 170 yards and a touchdown. He said spring practice helps players learn the offense, build chemistry and stand out from their teammates.
Redshirt sophomore Riley Miller, a receiver who hasn't caught a pass in his career with the Cardinals, said the extra practice could help him move up in the depth chart, or at least hold off the incoming recruits.
"It's an advantage for me just because I've been with the offense," Miller said. "We learned the offense last year so I'm familiar with it as opposed to learning something brand new. I'm able to go up and line up without having to think about it as much."
Wide receivers coach Alex Bailey said it was too early to pick any front-runners for increased roles — today was, after all, the first day of practice — but he said the extra reps should really help the returners.
"You're not preparing for an opponent, so you have more than enough time to really just focus on you," Bailey said. "Focus on the things that you're doing. Focus on the fundamentals."
Neu said he might even lean on his tight ends more and line them up as wide receivers on occasion. Hogue and Miller both said it was just extra motivation to do even better.
"Since we have so few guys, everybody's got to do their job," Miller said. "I think we all know that, the coaches have told us all multiple times, and I think we're really going to embrace that challenge. Everyone wants to make plays, it's just a matter of putting it on the field."
The chance to see the Cardinals practice in pads really has Neu excited, too.
"It's all about recruiting, recruiting, recruiting," Neu said. Now you get to spring ball and the guys in your program that have worked their tail off, this is their opportunity now."