If you want to talk about Indiana University football “husky” defensive back Marcelino Ball, you really have to start with his break-out 2016 freshman season.
Most freshmen spend their first season getting bigger and learning the system while waiting for their opportunity. That would have been especially understandable for Ball, who didn’t reach his 18th birthday until the March after his freshman campaign.
But Ball was a sensation from day one.
It takes a truly gifted talent and a quick study to compete in the Big Ten at such a young age, but the determined defensive back was undaunted. Ball finished third on the team with 75 tackles, 60 solo stops, two interceptions (tied) and eight pass breakups. He started 12 times and played in all 13 games at the husky position and led all Big Ten freshmen in tackles.
His accomplishments between the lines didn’t go unnoticed.
The Roswell, Georgia native received multiple honors including 247Sports True Freshman All-American, honorable mention All-Big Ten (coaches and media), ESPN.com and BTN.com Big Ten All-Freshman, Big Ten Freshman of the Week (Ball State), and IU’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
At 6-foot-0, 217 pounds, with a special combination of speed and physicality, Ball seemingly could make an intriguing addition to the offensive side of the football as well. That possibility at least appeared to be on the table during the 2017 Spring Game.
Whether he was ever really intended to line up on the offensive side of the ball or not in 2017, the overall expectations for the incoming sophomore were sky high. The brother of two former NFL players, Ball’s pedigree was never in question. Unfortunately, the only thing that could hold him back surfaced during his second season.
Ball started the first three games in 2017 at the husky position before he suffered a season-ending injury and received a medical redshirt. His start to the season once again showed great promise.
In the high profile season opener against Ohio State, Ball matched his career-high with 10 tackles, and then followed that up with eight tackles in the win at Virginia.
Coming into 2018, Ball returns as a sophomore, but given the potential he has shown, it is reasonable to wonder if he will ever fully use all of his eligibility. Now at the advanced age of 19, Ball is the prototypical NFL strong safety.
But there is still that lingering question about lining up on offense. Fully recovered from injury, Ball once again lined up on offense in the Spring Game — this time slotted out as a wide receiver. We spied him running routes in the game, and asked him about.
Whether he ever plays a down on offense remains to be seen. Two things are not in question. First, Ball is now a leader on this young, rebuilt defense. Second, his health and contributions on the field will go a long way in determining the outcome of the 2018 season.
While that might be a lot to ask of a 19 year-old, that’s all Ball has known since he arrived in Bloomington. Now, head coach Tom Allen is asking even more, saying this about his returning star in the Spring —
“I think our success will be based in a big part on how he elevates his game,” Allen told reporters.
That’s a lot to put on someone’s shoulders coming back from injury. Ball can be somewhat understated off the field. When he was asked by an IU reporter at the school’s media day about whether he is returning for this 2018 season with a chip on his shoulder, he simply said:
“Yeah, I’m just coming back trying to play with my teammates and get that bond back.”
If you watch Ball on the field, you know that he seems to always play with a chip on his shoulder, and he has thrived under the spotlight. Or maybe he is just that good. Whatever the case, the results speak for themselves, and a little added pressure from his head coach seems right up his alley.
Ball has always just let his play on the field do the talking — and that has always been more than good enough.
He seems to be taking a similar approach when it comes to becoming a leader of this football team.
“I have my own ways of trying to be a leader. I try to lead by example and things of that nature,” Ball told the IU reporter.
The example has been made. Come in from day one and make a splash. It sounds like a good example to follow for a young, hungry and fast defense — and no one questions Marcelino Ball’s ability to let his actions lead the way.
The only question that does remain is whether he will also be setting an example on the field for the offense. It seems doubtful and it’s top secret for now. But if it ever happens — expect big things from day one.
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