As he watched his teammates author one of the most memorable seasons in Indiana football history last fall, Marcelino Ball thought about testing the limits of modern medicine.
For a few weeks at the start of the 2020 campaign, Ball was determined to not let an ACL tear suffered during fall camp keep him on the sidelines. His teammates were having fun and winning games, and Ball wanted to contribute. So he asked Google: “When is the quickest you can come back from an ACL injury?” The answers he found weren’t quite to his liking, so he considered workarounds — anything that could get him on the field, even in a limited capacity.
Maybe he could play a little zone, he wondered. He knew man coverage was out of the question. So, too, was blitzing. But a cameo in Cover 3? Perhaps an appearance in a Cover 4 package?
“I could go out there right now,” he thought.
It was, of course, just wishful thinking, the desperate hopes of a team captain eager to be a part of IU’s ascendant season.
“I wish I would’ve been able to contribute,” Ball said. “… It was good to see them ball out. I didn’t have any negative thoughts. It was more so, ‘Shoot, can I go out there and play?’”
Soon, he’ll be able to do exactly that, taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility — his sixth — afforded to all fall athletes. Yeah, Ball has been part of the picture in Bloomington for a long time now, coming in as a 17-year-old freshman under former coach Kevin Wilson and quickly developing into one of IU’s most important defensive players at the Husky position.
Even with as long as he’s been around, Ball doesn’t like to think of himself as too old for the college game. He’s still only 21 years old — his birthday isn’t until March 23 — and he’s full of the same zeal for the sport that made him an instant-impact player for the Hoosiers years ago.
It’s all about perspective. In his eyes, he’s not old for college football, just extra seasoned. To Ball, the distinction matters.
“I’ve seen it with a lot of players,” he said. “When I was an underclassman, the seniors at the time were like, ‘Man, I’m so old. I’m an oldhead.’ That’s what it’s called. You walk around like, ‘Man, I’m an oldhead. I’ve seen all this.’ That stuff really gets in your head. You start moving like an old man, you know? So going into 2020, I flipped the switch. I changed my perspective. I’m only 21 years old, you know what I’m saying? I’m still young. Yeah, I’ve been here a while, but I don’t really see myself as an oldhead. I’ve just been here. I’ve experienced it all. I know what it feels like, metaphorically speaking, when the lights are off, meaning when we don’t have a bowl game or when we go 5-7.”
That point of view was helpful last season, when Ball had to remind himself that things could be worse. In fact, those four words — “It could be worse” — became a mantra for Ball as he took the initial steps in the recovery process, and he passed them along to any teammates willing to listen.
“I remember one game, my guy Stevie (Scott) didn’t have one of his best games,” Ball recalled. “He’s down, like, ‘Dang, man. Didn’t have a good game.’ I was like, ‘It could be worse, buddy! You could’ve had no game at all, like me!’”
From no games to 13 games is the hope for Ball this season, as he looks to savor his final season with the Hoosiers. He’s still in the process of rehabbing, but the plan is to be back on the field for Indiana’s season opener at Iowa on Sept. 4.
Where he always wanted to be.