IU’s Ball matures into captain’s role for Hoosiers

Indiana’s Marcelino Ball, for most of his life, has only known one speed.

“Just 100 miles per hour, no governor,” said John Ford, who was Ball’s coach at Roswell High in Georgia, about a half-hour north of downtown Atlanta.

On the football field, that speed made Ball a terror, a 200-pound kamikaze flying sideline to sideline. Seated at a desk in class, though, his feet fidgeted. He’d give the most impassioned speech anyone’s ever heard in social studies, but when it was his time to sit and listen, he was sometimes a handful for more order-dependent lecturers at Roswell.

Ball was always just a little young for his grade. Just a little less mature.

“If you’re running around a track at 100 miles per hour, he’d run wide sometimes,” Ford admitted, “but always with positive intent and positive intentions.”

In that respect, it’s no surprise for Ford to hear that Ball has risen to the rank of captain ahead of his fifth year at IU. Few are trying to do things the right way more than Ball. His natural setting has just been at a higher energy level, speed, and volume than most.

The polish of a captain, it’s something Ball had to acquire over time. It was something he demonstrated this past week, sitting in front of a Zoom screen ahead of the Hoosiers’ matchup with No. 8 Penn State, answering questions with depth and introspection. Those questions were just tied to an unfortunate circumstance, which may be the ultimate test of his maturity.

The speed Ball is accustomed to moving, he hasn’t been able to reach it since tearing his ACL early in fall camp. He was slated for surgery Friday. The very next day, he expects to be out at Memorial Stadium, with his team, the only place he can imagine being.

“I’d rather be a resource, be a reason why we improve and win games, from the sideline, rather than mope around because I’m not playing,” Ball said. “Gotta mature.”

So in the weeks since his injury, Ball has focused his mind on new but familiar challenges, cerebral in nature. He’s showing up to film sessions, coaching up his replacements in the Hoosiers’ hybrid “husky” position. He’s showing up to practice on time, providing instant feedback but also trying to rip the football out of players’ hands if they veer toward him out of bounds. He can’t help it.

Ball wishes he could be out there and play PSU. While the Hoosiers’ eight-win campaign in 2019 was one of the best years in recent program history, it was not one of the better years of his life personally. He didn’t go into detail about his troubles, other than to say he suffers from anxiety, and he had to get his mind right during the pandemic.

Ball felt like he did. “All of COVID, I trained as hard as ever. I feel like it showed throughout the 13 days I was out there. Nobody could outrun me … I was impeccable.”

Then, his knee gave out. Non-contact injury. A player who made Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” with his 4.4-second 40-yard dash time and a 400-plus-pound bench press suddenly couldn’t use those talents on the field.

But if the timing of events was at all opportune, it was fortunate that Ball found his center before the injury.

“It feels so good to be like this,” Ball said. “I just hope to keep it where I’m at. Total Zen.”

As a captain, Ball has a clear understanding of where his mental energies should lie. When he was asked if the NFL was his next stop, or if he might consider coming back for the 2021 college season, he shrugged it off like a wide receiver block.

“We got eight games, you’ve got eight teams … that’s all I’m worried about,” Ball said. “So, we rollin’.”

That selfless streak isn’t surprising to anyone who knows Ball, including Ford. His mind flashes back to a 2015 matchup with Etowah for the region championship, on a cold, rainy night. Injuries had left a vacancy at Roswell’s “bandit” linebacker spot, and Ball was the strongest and most physical player available. But once Etowah saw Ball down in the box, they went “heavy” personnel. That meant Ball was suddenly a glorified defensive end, taking on tight ends, fullbacks, and pulling guards.

Ball gave everything to the assignment, flying around, and hyping up his teammates between plays. It’s a teaching example Ford still uses with his athletes.

“It was everything great and everything that’s right about football,” Ford said. “My team needs me. This may not be the best thing for me, may not be what I wanted to do, but I’m going to do it with all of my heart because I love the guy next to me.”

Ball didn’t just show that in games. Ford specifically remembers a moment in practice, during a junior-varsity period, when an unheralded 130-pound JV player picked off the scout team quarterback, running it across the goal line for a touchdown. Ball, who could have taken that moment in practice to sip some water, zoning out with his varsity teammates, was fully engaged.

He burst off the sideline with all of his speed. He effortlessly picked up his teammate in celebration, too.

“It was like a bear hug that turned into an incline press,” Ford said. “There was so much joy for this other kid.”

Ball has always had so much joy, so much energy. For the sake of his fellow teachers, Ford tried to expend as much of the latter as possible in weights before school. But Ball could lift twice over and hardly be tired. Before games, Ball would run routes and have Roswell’s backup quarterback toss him the ball — again, he wasn’t a receiver — just to rack up some miles before the first snap.

IU wanted this indomitable spirit in its program, and one of Tom Allen’s first acts in Bloomington, after being hired as the Hoosiers’ defensive coordinator in January 2016, was hosting Ball and his mother on a visit.

Their car broke down on the way.

“It was not a great trip to get him here, but he chose to come, and came and played right away as a freshman,” said Allen, who became IU’s head coach in 2017. “Obviously, on the field, he’s always been a very physical player, he’s very physically gifted, has a special skill set. But it was just off the field, just being young and not always being consistent with certain things.”

After starting all but one game as a freshman, finishing third on the team with 75 tackles, Ball was cut down by a season-ending injury three games into his sophomore campaign. He bounced back with 59 tackles, along with a team-high 7.5 for loss, as a redshirt sophomore. But in 2019, it was a rough year for Ball.

There were down moments on the field, including two personal-foul penalties versus Ball State. At times, it just seemed Ball was trying to do too much. But its personal issues Ball wrestled with the most.

Then the pandemic hit.

“With COVID happening, it’s a terrible situation to begin with. It’s killing a lot of people. It’s leaving people unemployed and everything like that,” Ball said. “For me, it was a sense of a time to just kind of get my mind right. Be at home, take some time off, and then finally get back into training and finally just get my mind right. What do I want? Why am I playing football? … Get down to the root of why I’m doing something. Why am I waking up?

“When I found my reason why, my reason why I play football, whatever reason I do something, it kind of helped me subtract things. That it’s, like, the risk/reward for this, I don’t want to do it. Or as far as football, I want the rewards for that. I want the rewards of having teammates and building relationships and winning and competing. I love that.”

In the last year, Allen feels Ball has matured a ton. That progression aligned with the birth of Ball’s daughter, which adds an element of perspective.

Ball was also a responsible voice for the Hoosiers during the pandemic, lifting with his younger teammates, and stressing the importance of social distancing when they weren’t at workouts.

“It’s hard to do that consistently, especially over the summer, when we were most of the ones on campus,” Allen said. “He just showed so much maturity … it wasn’t surprising for me to see all the votes he got as a captain.”

He’s on time, always there, always encouraging.

Bryant Fitzgerald, his replacement at husky, has sung Ball’s praises for teaching him the nuances of the position. Free safety Jamar Johnson, who was Ball’s understudy in 2019, has been heartened to see his friend still at practice, with a level head, smiling.

“Yeah,” Johnson said with a sigh, “sad we don’t got him this year. He was hitting on all cylinders before he got hurt. He’s just looking at it as a positive. He’s just going to keep pushing. I’ve got faith in him. I know he’s going to come back strong next year.”

In the meantime, Ball will be around. In fact, the program had him narrate a hype video released Friday night, where a ferocious Ball screams, “We had a taste of success,” referencing the Hoosiers’ eight-win season, “and now we want more! We fear none! We’re starving! We’re relentless!”

It ends with Ball nodding confidently, saying “It’s time to ball.”

Ball made clear Tuesday he intends to be at the Hoosiers’ game Saturday, just a day removed from his ACL surgery. In ways, he still moves at a fast pace.

Being a captain, it’s an honor. But it’s also his duty.

“Definitely feels good, definitely appreciate it. Wish I could be out there, obviously,” Ball said. “But, hey man, fear none, take everything. That’s what we are going to do.”

22 comments

  1. It is a shame Ball is injured with the progress he made this year. I watched the IU hype video and Ball is impressive as the narrator; he shows the talent to be in films, as announcer, or motivational speaker after his football career.

  2. A “hype video”….? Huh? For the fans? For their own inspiration?

    Seriously, guys. The teams you defeated last season had a collective W/L record of around .200 . You didn’t win against a team with a record above .500 . Even the mid-majors were bottom feeders in their lowly conferences.

    Hype video? It’s like the Tom Crean years found a football team. What is the IU football equivalent to our hoops team appearing in a Sweet 16? Losing by 16 or less to OSU?

    So much self-adulation in basketball and football…Maybe we change our names to the Indiana Hindenburgs (much promotion …then flames)? Indiana Hypesters? Indiana Hullicinaters (wins against cupcakes causes a psychedelic high)? Indiana Hoverers (always one scripture quote above the overkill)? Indiana Houdiniers (talk big magic act then disappear forever)?

    Is this what happens to places when they lose for 100 years? I suppose it’s a normal defense mechanism. When you never play defense, I guess you need defense mechanisms……along with weaves and hype to nowhere.

  3. Hendershot dropped the game clinching first down. That is when I turned it off. Start Tuttle next week.

  4. ^^^Premature Pen-execution.

    Penix SHOCKS THE WORLD! Penix’s final drive of regulation was mighty impressive. He made passes that had no margin of error. And then runs in the 2-pt conversion on a very nifty scamper. Gotta admit…I was impressed. The young man brought the moxie when he needed it.

    Of course, none of that happens if the completely boneheaded Penn State running back simply takes a knee instead of running in the touchdown.
    Penn State was mistake-ridden…Hopefully IU can finish in OT.

  5. In my opinion that game should have just ended in a tie because neither team really deserved to win that game. Penn St would have dropped out of top 10 even if they won. Not sure he truly got in but wasn’t enough evidence to overturn. If play on the field was that he didn’t get in they wouldn’t have overturned that either. Survive and move on.

    1. I don’t know, man. I think Penix just made you dine on your own tongue.
      And the guy took some pretty good hits and held up….I’m beyond impressed.

      Last comment….I like the defensive coordinator on the Hoosier. Powder blue sweater…Great stuff. Great game. Happy for V13.

  6. Maybe the most athletic quarterback play I’ve ever seen….(college or pro). I simply don’t know how he got to the pylon.
    Probably the best 10 passing completions in succession I’ve witnessed in a very long time. Penix’s accuracy was simply ….SHOCKING!

    I doubted. I doubt no more.

    1. Fish and sidekick thought Penix didn’t get in because ball was on ground before it hit pylon. This is example of player/s forced a win to IU (if you no what I mean). It goes to credit T.A. character which projects into players/team.

  7. Well I was wrong. Bad calls Good calls on both teams…IU stayed close enough and prevailed. My prediction was wrong. Penn State will probably give Ohio State a good game. The question is…WILL IU BEAT RUTGERS? T.A. 19 wins 20 losses. Trying to get IU to 500 ball.
    Overall, defense kept IU above water, first half and beyond at times. Penix and pass game came thru in OTs.
    POSITIVE ATTITUDE ON THIS BLOG GOES TO V.

  8. For all the negative comments IU never gave up and now win the game on a great play by Penix. I am not sold on coach Sheridan’s play calling but several things come from this game. Our DL is much better with DBs that for a big part of the game played well. I think the defense can play straight up with some of the best OL in the B1G, I just hope coach Wommack sees that and stops doing so much to scheme against the offense that puts the defense in a bind.

    Coach Allen made the right call going for two in the OT. Coach Sheridan needs to run plays more like coach DeBord running plays in series instead of pulling plays out of the hat the way he seemed to do. We had a couple freshman receivers grow up on that last drive to send the game into OT.

    For all the criticism that could be directed at the Hoosiers they just beat the #8 PSU team that is loaded with 4 and 5 star players. IU didn’t quit and had players step up to win the game when it was on the line. 2020’s first win is in the books and tomorrow will be time to focus on a much improved Rutgers team before coming back home to take on Michigan.

    H4H and t along with others, IU has NOW beaten a winning team from 2019. Despite not playing game of beauty, the Hoosiers proved the can beat one of the teams thought to be a play-off team.

  9. Our new OC had a very bad game. The drop off in performance and execution from last year was huge and obvious. Penix had a terrible game passing the ball but redeemed himself at the end of regulation and in overtime, but he was clutch when it mattered most and finished like a warrior.

    The defense played great, but were on the field way too long.

    Still problems with special teams. What the hell was the kicker doing on the last kick-off of in regulation.

    But in the end, it’s a win over a top ten ranked team, and I can’t help but think about how many times IU has found ways to lose those type of games in the past.

    The good news about playing so bad and still winning is that TA has lot’s of coaching material to use this week in preparation for the next game. The offense must play a lot better.

    1. As I tried to tell V13 more than a few times, our OL isn’t very good. A big part of Penix’s problem is we can’t run the ball and, worse, we can’t protect very well. In deep drops, he had no pocket and little time. They were rotating guards all day and never found a combination that worked, and Bedford and Jones were turnstiles in pass protection. Chasing off our best lineman, who started today for Iowa, wasn’t a good idea. It didn’t help that there were several big drops. Stevie is going to have to get what he can this year, and he’s just not going to have much help, and some of the young receivers are going to push the older guys for snaps.

      On the bright side, the D hung in and played pretty well. There’s not much off the edge, but the competed at the LOS very well. We struggled in the middle of the back, but the corners were tight and aggressive.

      PSU worked hard to keep giving IU opportunities, and thankfully we took advantage. Them scoring when it was clear we wanted them to was not wise, and Franklin must be pissed that they didn’t understand what was happening.

      Win or lose, I was fine with going for two. I’m not sure he made it, but reversing it wasn’t likely because there weren’t any angles that would’ve conclusively proved he didn’t break the plane. Gutsy call, but it was all Penix to make the play. Great win.

  10. Post game. And T.A. acknowledges sub par play by Penix but also stated the great ones come thru in the clutch and he will get better.
    Think about the overall game defense played. Really helps cover for unproductive offensive play until it can get there footing.

  11. You were right, V13. Very nice win…Signature win.

    It doesn’t happen without the perfect passes from Penix. He was basically flawless in the final two drives….or was it three drives. Hell, I’ve lost track. He went from Pedestrian Penix to Super Penix and delivered like no Hoosier quarterback has in any history I can remember.
    He changed the game ….Some nice catches, too, ..but that’s what you’re supposed to do when the ball is perfectly delivered.

  12. These opportunities don’t come to often…Allen showed some cajones to go for the 2-pts and the win. Seize the day…and all that Dead Poets Society stuff.

    Gather ye Rose Bowl bids while ye may,
    Old time is still a-flying;
    And this same flower that smiles today,
    To-morrow will be dying.

  13. WHEW!
    I said earlier in the week MP needed all the snaps he could get. He finally found his grove after 2 straight sacks and a TD w/a 2 point conversion for the tie. But he sure was rusty. Looking like he was thinking to much. For his 1st game as OC Sheridan actually called a fairly decent selection of plays. DL just reaches the adequate level but LB’S and the back 5 are winners. FG kicker gets it done. OL needs to be nastier. Hell I don’t think they ever had a penalty. Practice will be fun this week.
    Ramsey has NW looking much improved. He always does that for his team.

  14. But they’re playing Maryland….

    We don’t win this game today without Penix. Penix puts some real juice on a ball….and boy we’re they accurate down the stretch. He also brought more to the run dimension than I realized he could provide.
    And he took some pretty good hits…

    I wonder if the extra two months until the season started was sort of a godsend for Penix. Those 8-10 weeks probably helped him recover from his previous injury even more….

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