MUNCIE | Less than a month after having knee surgery, quarterback Keith Wenning has the Ball State offense off to a fast start.
So when he threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more in the Cardinals' season opener, it didn't surprise coach Pete Lembo.
"He just has a great work ethic," Lembo said. "I think he bounces back quickly from injuries. He's a tough, rugged guy."
The 6-foot-3 senior suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee two days into camp and had arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 3.
Five days later, he was back to practice.
Then three weeks after returning to practice, Wenning led the Cardinals to a 51-28 victory over Illinois State.
"When talking about the surgery, they said it was about a two-week process," Wenning said. "I was initially thinking, 'Here we go again. I don't want to miss practice.' But the recovery was really quick."
To get back to practice, if he wasn't in class and trainers were available, he was right there with them. Now he's feeling as good as ever.
Wenning is one of the best college quarterbacks in the state of Indiana and one of the best to pass through Muncie.
Wenning, a fourth-year starter for Ball State, leads the program with 740 career completions, and is second in touchdown passes (60) and needs 14 to tie the record.
Wenning is second in yards passing (7,594). He needs 1,639 to tie that record. And he's second in pass completion rate (62.5). The record is 63.8.
His ability to lead the offense plays a major role in just how successful the Cardinals can be this season — and the expectations are high.
What if Wenning suffers another injury? Lembo knows he needs a solid backup prepared to run the offense.
That's nothing new for Ball State.
"Our offense goes as the quarterback goes to a degree and that's why the backup position becomes so important," Lembo said.
"We were so blessed last year to have a guy like Kelly Page that, if something happened to Keith, we didn't feel like we had to change one call on the game plan for that week."
Page played well when Wenning suffered an ankle injury against Ohio on Nov. 14 last year. Wenning sat out the regular-season finale and Page helped the Cardinals take a 21-14 lead on Miami of Ohio before getting injured.
Wenning returned for Ball State's loss to Central Florida in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.
Page has graduated and this team's two backups are inexperienced — Ozzie Mann redshirted last year and Kyle Kamman is a sophomore.
But right now, it's Wenning's team.
It has been since before Lembo was hired as head coach in 2011. Wenning was a sophomore then. He started all but two games as a freshman and made a good first impression with Lembo from the start.
"He was overweight," Lembo said jokingly. "He looked like he was a couple biscuits away from moving to tight end."
But jokes aside, Lembo knew Wenning was his quarterback.
"(He) just made a wonderful first impression," Lembo said. "Just was a guy that you felt like was going to be completely on board from day one and very, very willing to embrace us, which I will always appreciate."
Wenning still has work to do before the end of the season. He wants to lead the Cardinals to a Mid-American Conference championship and become bowl eligible for a third straight year.
They won six conference matchups last season — the most since Ball State went 8-0 in 2008 — and lost to Northern Illinois and Kent State, who landed in the MAC title game.
"I feel like we're capable of going all the way to the MAC championship and winning," Wenning said. "It's exciting to be in contention."