“He didn’t come here to redshirt,” at the time IU defensive coordinator Tom Allen said three years ago to a group of reporters at the team’s 2016 fall camp. “He came here from day one to play.”
Those words are not often spoken about your typical two-star recruit.
Maybe it was that rating by Rivals that fueled the fire in Marcelino Ball?
Whatever the case, now head coach Allen knew after one season that he had something special in the Roswell, Georgia product.
“When he showed up in June, I knew the kid was very, very focused,” Allen said after the 2016 season. “Would I have said that standing in front of you on Signing Day? No. We were excited about him, for sure, but I don’t think I ever knew he was going to be that good.”
Beyond just what he saw on the field, Allen was able to see past Ball’s rankings and see a pedigree that suggested something much more than a two-star talent.
Ball is the younger brother of two former NFL players and he has a third brother that also played college football.
Marcus was a former NFL defensive back, Reggie Jr., a former NFL wide receiver, and Raeshon, a defensive back at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
As the younger brother of football stars, perhaps it should have come as no surprise that Ball would be comfortable competing at the power five level as a freshman surrounded by much older players.
Like Allen said, despite being just 17 years old throughout the entirety of the 2016 season, Ball didn’t come to watch.
Instead, he burst onto the scene, starting in 12 of 13 games and finishing third on the team with 75 tackles while adding 60 solo stops, two interceptions, and eight pass breakups.
While it may have appeared as though Ball was flying all over the field making plays as a freshman, the now 20 year old redshirt junior doesn’t remember it that way.
“I was just trying to do my job,” Ball told The Daily Hoosier. “Don’t get beat, get where I’m supposed to be.”
“I was a freshman, and most freshmen just want to do their job because they’re scared to take risks. I feel like I took some risks, and I failed on those risks and gave up some touchdowns. And I took some risks and made plays, but all in all I just wanted to do my job.”
It was mission accomplished “doing his job” as a freshman, as Ball led all Big Ten newcomers in tackles and garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten.
After a highly anticipated sophomore season was cut short by injury after just three games, Ball returned in 2018 bigger, stronger and more confident.
Surrounded by a much younger defense than he had in 2016, Ball’s numbers didn’t jump off the page in 2018, at least not by his standards, but he felt like a different player.
Still only 19 last season, Ball said he “just trusted himself” and realized with his size and strength that “no one should block me and no one should break my tackle.”
Honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition followed once again for Ball, but that certainly doesn’t feel like his ceiling.
Finally in his twenties and an upperclassman, spending time around Ball and watching him on the field in 2019 brings to mind the words confident, leader, and swagger.
Playing the defensive back/linebacker hybrid “husky” position in Allen’s 4-2-5 defense, the chiseled 6-foot and 223 pound Ball has the look of a guy that can use those attributes to make plays all over the field.
Of course he will once again do his job, but will a player with such dynamic abilities perhaps even go off script from time to time to try to make a play?
He won’t exactly tell you that.
But a combination of homework and football instincts makes that almost seem natural for someone with Ball’s versatile on-the-field talents.
“I try not to go off the script much, but it just goes with film study, and instincts and just feeling it,” Ball said. “But if you’re wrong…”
“There’s sometimes that’s the case (going off script), but it’s just playing football really. Just playing football.”
“The film studies does help a lot because you find the tendencies. Then you can kinda get that green light.”
The truth is probably somewhere in between.
The coaching staff wants Ball to make plays, but Allen and defensive coordinator Kane Wommack’s system is in large part designed around Ball’s position. A successful 4-2-5 scheme requires a guy that can read the defense, stuff the run, cover anyone, and make splash plays.
Whether by following the script or an occassional improvisation, Ball is that guy. He appears to be the prototype for his position.
Ball has looked and played the part since he stepped foot on campus, but no one, including Ball, believes that he has fully reached his potential.
With a still young but now more experienced and deeper defense surrounding him, everything appears to be lining up for bigger and even better things for Ball as an upperclassman.
He didn’t come to IU to redshirt, and he didn’t come for honorable mentions. You won’t find anyone that believes Ball has reached his football ceiling.
Whatever he does in his final two seasons at Indiana, it won’t be in his well known No. 42, and that is part of the story behind still having more to accomplish.
Instead, look for Ball to be flying all over the field in No. 9 as he tries to finish what he and his good friend started.
“I just wanted to finish what (former No. 9) Jonathan Crawford started,” Ball said. “We had a bond playing together.”
While of course Ball has personal goals, more than anything, both he, and Crawford, came to Bloomington to win.
“I feel like the things we talked about, the thing we wanted to finish, it’s not done yet.”
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