Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
If the StepMill is running in the gym about 30 minutes before practice, it's a safe bet that junior running back MiQuale Lewis is on it.
It's a warmup before the warmup before practice to ensure there isn't a part of Lewis' body that won't be ready for the two-hour beating he'll receive as Ball State's starting running back.
It's taken two years and two major injuries for Lewis to become a stickler when it comes to warming up and stretching before practice and icing and stretching after practice. Last weekend's win over Toledo -- the sixth game of the season -- matched the longest stretch Lewis has gone without injury.
"A lot of injuries, things that happen to you, are freak, you can't do anything about them, which both of his, the past couple years, have been," Ball State running backs coach Eddie Faulkner said. "I can tell you he's taken every precaution that he possibly could to keep healthy... All it really takes is for the doctor to say, 'OK, you're ready to go,' and he goes out there and he plays full bore. Part of that is the reason why he gets hurt. He plays so reckless in a lot of ways and physical that it ends up being a detriment."
As a freshman, Lewis suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during the sixth game of the season. Last year, it was four games before suffering a season-ending ACL tear against Nebraska.
And each year, Lewis showed the potential to be one of the best running backs in the Mid-American Conference, if not the country.
This year, Lewis already has made his mark as the top back in the Mid-American Conference and the eighth-best running back statistically in the country. Lewis has rushed for 802 yards this season, 200 more than the next closest running back in the conference. He's rushed for 100 yards in every game but the first, in which he ran for 95. He has 12 total touchdowns and has scored in every game but one.
"It's just being more experienced and watching more film," Lewis said. "It's knowing the tendencies of the defense and what they're going to do so you can make the plays before they even get to do something. I'm a student of the game now."
Faulkner said he knew MiQuale was the right running back for Ball State's system after watching him play at Snider High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., but he hesitated to offer him a scholarship because he was, at the time, about 5-foot-4.
"I remember visiting his school because I was recruiting a couple other kids from there, and then leaving, sitting in my car and thinking, what am I doing? This kid's got all that we want," Faulkner said. "I was hesitant to pull the trigger because he's too short. I'm being the same way as the other schools that passed on him are being. So, I went back into the school and offered him. We were his only scholarship offer."
The gamble on the now 5-foot-6, 184-pound Lewis is paying off in a big way.
He's currently on pace to break the Ball State record for most rushing yards (1,618) set by Marcus Merriweather in 2002. Through six games that year, Merriweather had 693 yards. Merriweather also holds the record for the most 100-yard games (8). Other records that Lewis could break this year include most rushing touchdowns (19) and consecutive 100-yard rushing games (6).
And it's a long shot, but Lewis could have a shot at the MAC rushing record of 1,928 set by Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe in 2006.
"A lot of people and a lot of teams in this conference downgrade our running game," Lewis said. "We've suffered that for two years. It's nice to keep the defenses off-balance and it's helping the team play a lot better."
It's not shocking that Ball State's running game hasn't been feared because, other than Lewis, it's been lackluster the last couple of seasons. In 2006, the Cardinals rushed for 1,103 -- as a team. Last year it gained 1,936 yards on the ground, but 237 of those yards were from quarterback Nate Davis and 447 of those yards were gathered by Lewis in only four games.
Lewis' presence on the field is keeping defenses honest and keeping Ball State in the win column.
"He plays with a passion," Faulkner said. "That's why he's productive. He goes out there and he plays fast and he plays reckless. And I think he's going to continue to be that way. You don't really make a guy into being tough, it's kind of in their make up and Quale's got that."