After earning honorable mention All-Big honors as a 17-year-old freshman at Indiana, the odds seemed good he would follow in the footsteps of his older brothers and reach the NFL.
But after a turbulent six-year college career that included two season-ending injuries, things weren’t so clear.
His name wasn’t announced during the 2022 NFL draft, but still, Marcelino McCrary-Ball’s phone, and opportunity, rang on the third day of the draft.
He was on the beach with his brother’s family when he got a call from San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch.
There are few guarantees in the NFL, but an offer to join the team as an undrafted free agent meant McCrary-Ball had a chance.
Immediately, he was overcome with a new resolve.
“He (Lynch) called me, and I decided I’m coming here,” McCrary-Ball said to the 49ers media earlier this week. “From that day, I’m like, ‘I’m making the team.’ I have dedication. I have belief. There’s no doubt that I know I’m going to make the team.”
After spending his IU career in Tom Allen’s versatile safety/linebacker “husky” role, McCrary-Ball is listed as a 6-foot, 214-pound linebacker on the 49ers roster. His combination of coverage skills, speed and physicality seem on paper like a good match for today’s wide-open game.
McCrary-Ball is now playing on the field where that college freshman season ended back in late 2016 — at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. And at least for one moment, all the promise of the young emerging star from Roswell, Ga. seemed to be back in his first ever NFL preseason game.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) August 13, 2022
“I see the ball in the air for like 30 seconds,” McCrary-Ball said. “I was literally like, ‘This is not real.’ My mindset whenever I get the ball is two things: I’m always trying to get in the end zone by any means, and the first guy is not tackling me. … It sucks that I didn’t get in the end zone. I would have been so hyped.”
The interception against Green Bay wasn’t the first time Marcelino-Ball has flashed at 49ers camp this summer. He intercepted his fellow former Hoosier Nate Sudfeld, and he had Pro-Bowler Nick Bosa asking what round he was drafted in.
Still, the uphill climb from undrafted to the 53-man roster is steep.
After two major injuries at Indiana and all of the highs and lows along the way, McCrary-Ball knows as well as anyone what to do.
Dedication. And belief.
“I’m just appreciative of being here,” he said. “And I just want to do whatever I got to do to, one, stay here, but also be a part of a Super Bowl-bound team, which is the 49ers.”
McCrary-Ball spoke for more than 15 minutes earlier this week on his journey from Georgia, to Indiana, to the 49ers:
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