TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute native Michael Mardis symbolizes the type of student-athlete to come through former Indiana State coach Trent Miles’ football program, arriving on campus four years ago an overwhelmed 18-year-old and finishing his career a polished player ready to succeed after college.
Mardis is preparing to conclude his studies in nursing at ISU. But after he led the Sycamores in receptions (34), receiving yards (408) and touchdown catches (four), he’s not ruling out playing professional football.
“A couple coaches told me the Canadian Football League asked for film on some guys and I was one of the guys. That would be great to go up there and play. That’s a stepping ladder up to the top, which is the NFL obviously,” Mardis said. “I think I have the caliber to play in the NFL. Right now, I’m focused on training.”
Mardis also is continuing to focus on his academics, which was a priority for him when choosing Indiana State. He said several schools that recruited him indicated that he wouldn’t be able to do nursing because of the busy schedule that football entails.
“When you hear something like that it kind of deters you from wanting to go to that school. It makes you not want to go there because you have an interest in the sport and the actual major,” Mardis said. “Coach Miles said, ‘Hey man, if you come here, we’ll work it out. We’ll find a way to work it out so you can come play here and do what you want to do.’ ”
Nursing is one of the most demanding majors for a college student, with requirements to spend large chunks of time in hands-on learning situations.
“Nursing is very time consuming. The school itself is very hard. It’s probably one of the hardest in the nation to get out of school with in the undergrad. Because when you get out in the real world, the margin for error is so little,” Mardis said.
In addition to studying a playbook full of Xs and Os, Mardis had to master the complex terminology of anatomy and physiology.
“Just clinicals and school are tough, but you really have to study outside of class,” said Mardis, adding the time put in for football each week could almost count for a full-time job. “After football practice, you don’t want to do anything. You want to go home, eat your meal and go right to sleep. It’s such a physically draining sport every day.”
But he wouldn’t trade it for anything, especially since Mardis played a role in ISU’s historic turnaround.
“It’s just like, it goes by so fast. It’s hard to explain in just one little interview how great it’s been to come here and play football and be able to accomplish what we’ve accomplished in the last four years,” Mardis said. “Coming from the bottom of every football team in the nation and rising up to a top 20 team the past couple of years. It’s a real special thing we’ve done here. I wouldn’t have rather gone anywhere else.”
Mardis said it was a privilege to play for Miles, who resigned and accepted a job with Georga State last week.
“Coach, he’s a great guy. With the circumstance of him going to Georgia State, I’m happy for him and everyone that he’s taking with him there. It’s going to be a great job for him there. My heart goes out to coach Miles as he goes to Georgia State to hopefully rebuild their program too,” said Mardis, who becomes one of the many ISU football alumni who hope the program continues to rise under new direction.
“We’ve had a really special program, really special coach since I’ve been here, real special players as well. It’s been a real collaborative work for everyone — athletic directors, players and coaches — to understand what we wanted to do. We’ve really just bought into the program and loved it here. That’s why it is where it’s at now.”
Mardis admires the way Miles went about building the program. It began with creating a culture of accountability, he said.
“There was all sorts of disciplinary things. If you weren’t doing something in study tables right, we had a policy that if someone got in trouble, the first strike [the consequences] was on them, second strike was on the position group, third strike was on the whole side of the ball. People keep messing up, sometimes you have to let people go. He was fair, he was consistent, he set ground rules. You knew you weren’t supposed to break those.”
While ISU didn’t win a championship during Miles’ tenure, it was impressive to go from a team getting blown out every Saturday to a team capable of knocking off teams like No. 1-ranked North Dakota State.
“He took it step by step. He taught us how to compete, then he taught us how to win, then to compete to win, then to win is expected, then to win for championships,” Mardis said. “ He took it step by step. It was a great way to approach the program, because we needed that. He’s just got monumental stature here at Indiana State too. He rebuilt the program, and he’s a great guy too.”
Mardis said he’s developed as a player and a leader at ISU.
“Skill-wise, from the very beginning, coach [Miles] said ‘Hey you’re not fast enough, you’re not strong enough, you need to work on these certain things.’ I was coming in as an 18-year-old and I was getting to play against some 23-year-olds. It took dedication and hard work to get where I wanted to be. That helped out a lot as far as being able to help the team on the field.
“Leadership, I’ve been here for four years and I’ve seen people try to be good leaders … people that are successful at leading the team and some that aren’t. To really lead a team, you have to lead by example more than anything. You’ve got to do the right thing, you’ve got to be where you’re supposed to be and you’ve got to perform well on the field. When you do all those things right, people respect you. And respect is one of the biggest things to being a leader. People have to respect you as a person and as a player. That helped me perform well on the field too.”