At times Marcelino Ball’s fiery edge has gotten the best of him.
Amped up for Indiana’s 2019 season opener against Ball State, Ball committed two 15-yard penalties, including an unsportsmanlike penalty after the whistle.
“I don’t get it. To me it’s just stupid,” IU head coach Tom Allen memorably said after the game.
What wasn’t stupid — Ball’s team leading 10 tackles against the Cardinals in an IU win.
It has just been that way with the 6-foot, 220 pound husky from Roswell Georgia. Highs and lows.
The highs are the elite playmaking skills of a football player with NFL level talent.
The lows the byproduct of an ultra-competitor that at times errors on the wild side.
In 2018, Ball was penalized for targeting and had to sit out the first half against Rutgers.
Allen saw what Ball was all about that day.
“He was a caged tiger,” Allen said. “He’s like, ‘Coach, I got to stay in the locker room?’ I told him sorry, that’s the rule. So he’s pacing and pacing. We had to assign somebody to him just to make sure he didn’t sneak out.”
All of that energy building up inside a young man is bound to lead to a few penalties. It’s the bad you take for all that good.
Sent back home during the pandemic without his daily football routines to fall back on, Ball’s at times tempestuous nature could have sent him in a lot of directions.
Few would have predicted Zen master.
And the timing could not have been better for Ball.
“Throughout this COVID-19 year I have found a space of relaxation as far as my mental health goes,” Ball told the media on Tuesday.
A relaxed mindset is exactly what anyone needs when confronted with Ball’s new reality — surgery on Friday, and watching from afar as what was to be his final season auditioning for the NFL unfolds in front of him.
2020 has been enough to cause just about anyone to commit a couple unsportsmanlike penalties.
Anyone but Ball, that is.
Although he will be sidelined for the 2020 season with a torn ACL, Ball’s year has led him to a good place — introspection, and a fresh outlook on life.
“For me, it was a time to get my mind right,” Ball said. “At home taking some time off (from football), and then finally getting back into training, and then finally getting my mind right.
“Why am I playing football? Why am I waking up?”
Ball attributed his ups and downs at least in part to anxiety.
Somehow through the madness of 2020, the caged tiger found calm and meaning.
“Throughout COVID it just made may say ‘relax, you’ve been doing this for so long.’ I feel like I just got my confidence back,” Ball said.
Don’t take any of that to suggest that Ball lost his edge.
When it comes to football, what Ball found was purpose, and renewed focus.
“I want the rewards of having teammates, and building relationships, and winning, and competing — I love that,” Ball said of the realizations that he came to during the offseason.
The two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten performer believes that what he found mentally in 2020 was about to translate to his best season on the field.
Ball self described the 2019 season as “terrible year” when it came to his individual performance.
Relaxed on the inside, Ball was preparing for 2020 more focused than ever.
“Just to get your confidence back you have to say you’re the best,” Ball said. “So I trained like the best. Harder than ever. I really feel like it showed during the 13 days that I was out there (at fall camp). Nobody could outrun me, I did not want to get off the field. I was impeccable.”
And then the cruelty of 2020 found Ball.
A simple plant of a foot on the practice field changed everything for his football season.
Ball knows the mental anguish of rehabilitation.
He lost most of his 2017 season to injury as well.
The lonely, frustrating process could break a Buddhist monk.
But not Ball.
“I feel so nonchalant, and it feels so good to be like this, he said. “I hope to keep it where it’s at. Total Zen.”
How exactly is Ball maintaining that inner calm while watching from the sidelines?
His new purpose — helping those teammates, and building those relationships that helped him sharpen his focus earlier in the year.
Ball realized that the comradery of being part of a team was part of the rewards of football for him.
Now he is pouring all of his seemingly endless energy into them.
“Helping the team out and watching them achieve has been the highlight,” Ball said of the weeks following the injury. “It is either helping your teammates out by being a resource, or being nothing.
“I remember after our first scrimmage I went over to Cam Jones’ house and ended up staying for an hour or two just watching film and telling him how I would get by a blocker or what I see in the offensive concept.
“I would rather be a resource and a reason why we improve and win games from the sidelines than moping around because I am not playing.”
Ball’s football future is uncertain.
A new NCAA eligibility rule will allow him to come back for a sixth year at IU if he wants to. Although he already has an undergraduate degree, Ball will still only be 22 years old during the 2021 season.
But he isn’t thinking about that right now.
He’s calm, but through it all, the edge is still there. The fire still burning.
“I am focused on this year,” Ball snapped back quickly when asked about his long term plans — perhaps a bit too soon for his liking.
Ball is calmer now. But make no mistake — the caged tiger is still pacing.
He is waiting, perhaps more relaxed and patient, but he is still looking for any opening back to the game he loves.
That much was evident when Ball revealed his weekend plans.
“I get surgery Friday, but I am still planning on being at the game on Saturday,” he said.
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