In 2008, Matthew Page was just a kid toiling in the trenches of E.C. Central's offensive line as a high school senior, getting the dirty work done at a school known more for its boys basketball success at that time.
He never experienced a winning season while playing for the Cardinals, as their best mark was 5-5 under coach A.J. Rodriguez during Page's junior year.
About three hours southeast of East Chicago in Muncie, another Cardinals team was enjoying unprecedented success in 2008, going 12-1 in the regular season. Ball State, which was ranked No. 12 in the country with a 12-0 record, lost its last regular-season game to Mid-American Conference foe Buffalo, 42-24.
The Cardinals would accept an invite to the GMAC Bowl, losing to Tulsa 45-13. Despite the rough end to the season, it was the best campaign Ball State football has ever experienced.
Fast forward four seasons, and Page will be one of a handful of local players helping lead the Cardinals to the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl on Dec. 21 in St. Petersburg, Fla., against Central Florida. With a 3-3 start to the season, the Cardinals rattled off six straight wins to end the season 9-3, and were easily in the running for bowl consideration.
"(The atmosphere is) real exciting," Page said. "I came here after the '08 season with a sense of doing something like this. The journey I had coming out here makes it so much better."
As a redshirt sophomore last season, Page received his first start at left tackle. He said the nerves were present, but it not exacerbated because his start came against Oklahoma, which was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time. Oklahoma's defensive line included Ronnel Lewis, now a rookie defensive end for the Detroit Lions.
"I was a little nervous, obviously, but when one guy goes down I have to stand up and not miss a beat," said Page, who played in eight games last season.
Ball State lost 62-6, but Page gained confidence from blocking well in that game, which has trickled down to this season.
"He's definitely grown in confidence," offensive line coach Nick Tabacca said. "Anytime you start against Oklahoma, I think it helps with confidence. Matt can block anybody in front of him. He has a lot of tools, that's for sure.
"He's got a skill set that could be intriguing to NFL teams."
Page can play both offensive tackle positions and contributes on special teams. At 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, the sheer size to excel on the line is present, as well as athleticism not seen in many players his size.
"I feel like it's a natural thing," Page said of his athleticism. "We've got a great strength and conditioning staff here. They help a lot."
Though Page had to get used to a new offensive line coach this season, he continues to develop and improve his skills after former O-line coach John Strollo left to coach tight ends at Penn State.
"It was a pretty easy transition," Page said. "(Nick Tabacca has) helped me a lot with my consistency. I felt like last year I was good, but I had bad days and good days. He had a high expectation of me this season."
Ball State has good depth with its tackles, which limited Page to just one start this season against Central Michigan. In that game, he helped pave the way for a 233-yard rushing performance in the 41-30 win. Page has seen action in every game this season.
"I knew I was going to have an increased role (this season)," Page said. "I just went into this year with the mindset of doing what I can to help the team win."