One day while working at Torrey Smith’s local football camp, Josh Ball spoke with the former NFL standout wide receiver about Ball’s future aspirations.
At the time, Ball was a Stafford High School student. But he had big plans for himself beyond competing in the prep ranks. And Smith was the perfect person to offer encouragement.
Smith also played at Stafford before going to Maryland, then enjoying an eight-year pro career that included playing for two Super Bowl champions.
During a brief break at the camp, Ball told Smith he had a bunch of Division I offers. Impressed by what he heard, Smith told Ball something that still sticks with him today.
“Maybe you can be one of us and get to the next level,” Ball recalls Smith telling him.
Ball assured Smith that’s been his plan since he first started playing football in middle school.
“I’ve always had the motivation,” Ball said. “I just don’t stop. I keep working as hard as I can.”
Now Ball has positioned himself to take that next step when the NFL Draft is held April 29-May 1. Draft analysts project the offensive lineman as a mid-to-late round selection.
Ball would become the third Stafford High School graduate to be drafted, joining Smith, a second-round selection in 2011, and Dexter McDougle, a 2009 Stafford graduate who was a third-round pick in 2014 by the New York Jets.
At nearly 6-foot-8 and 308 pounds, Ball’s size is his most obvious draw. Tall genes run in his family. Ball’s dad is 6-4, and his uncle stands 6-9.
But he also is versatile, strong and quick, characteristics that stood out to then-Stafford head football coach Chad Lewis when Ball joined the varsity as a 6-7, 315-pound sophomore and continued to define him at the next level where he eventually earned first-team, all-Conference USA honors in 2020 as a redshirt senior at Marshall.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Lewis said of Ball’s NFL prospects. “He has the athleticism and the size. If he stayed injury-free and kept progressing, I thought he could play in the NFL.”
Tony Pauline, chief draft analyst for Pro Football Network, cited how well Ball performed this season at Marshall against two highly regarded defensive linemen in Western Kentucky’s DeAngelo Malone, the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, and Appalachian State’s Demetrius Taylor. Pauline said Ball has the potential to develop into a starting left tackle in the NFL and gives Ball a third-round grade.
“He has excellent size and excellent length,” Pauline said. “He’s fundamentally sound and consistent.”
FLORIDA STATE TO MARSHALL
A four-star recruit who received over 25 college offers coming out of Stafford, Ball began his college career at Florida State. He redshirted his first season with the Seminoles before starting the final nine games at left tackle in 2017.
In May 2018, though, Florida State suspended Ball after an accusation of dating violence by his former girlfriend.
Ball was never charged and transferred to Butler Community College in Kansas, where he played in the fall of 2018.
There was a belief Ball would return to Florida State after the school reinstated him. But on Dec. 13, 2018, he released a statement on Twitter that said in part: “I have made the determination to stay closer to family and not return to Florida State even though I have been cleared and in good standing to do so by the Florida State administration.”
He added he was “an advocate of women’s rights, equality, and due process,” and said he would “never be intimidated nor shamed into stopping the pursuit of my dreams.”
Six days after Ball released his statement, Marshall University announced he had signed with the Thundering Herd.
Marshall said in a statement at the time that it was “fully aware of Josh’s situation at Florida State.”
“We have done our due diligence in reviewing all available information, as we do with any student-athlete who enters our program,” the statement said. “We are comfortable with the information we have gathered, and all of the individuals with whom we have spoken are confident that Josh will embrace this opportunity to represent Marshall Athletics and this university with class.”
Ball has not publicly commented about his departure from Florida State since his statement on Twitter, but there’s no doubt NFL teams will question him about what happened there.
“They are going to look hard at that,” Pauline said.
THE NEXT STEP
In preparation for the draft, Ball first announced Dec. 20 via Twitter that he would skip Marshall’s bowl game Christmas Day against Buffalo. Three days later, Priority Sports announced Ball had signed with the agency.
A number of agents reached out to Ball, but he felt most comfortable with Kenny Zuckerman.
“He’s a blue-collar guy,” Ball said. “I know he’s going to do everything for me and be there for me in any situation. I heard from a ton of agents, but this was easy for me from the get-go.”
Zuckerman sent Ball to a training facility in Agoura Hills, Calif., where he worked out with three other NFL draft prospects represented by Zuckerman from early January through early March.
During his time there, Ball performed a variety of weekly drills, while also doing things like weightlifting and conditioning exercises and breaking down film. Most of that took place at the facility, but sometimes training meant hiking up a mountain or performing yoga, something Ball had never done before.
Ball planned to showcase his skills in front of NFL teams at the Hula Bowl, the NFL Combine and then Marshall’s Pro Day.
The pandemic, however, upended the schedule. First the NFL canceled the combine in Indianapolis. Then Ball missed the Jan. 31 Hula Bowl after coming down with the coronavirus.
The only event still going was Pro Day on March 10. Without the combine and the postseason all-star game, Pro Day took on more importance than usual because it would provide the only opportunity for on-field workouts in front of NFL teams. Interviews were conducted virtually.
“It’s a big deal for sure,” Ball said. “It’s our only shot in person.”
With scouts from 21 NFL teams in attendance, including the Washington Football Team, Ball was one of five Marshall players at the school’s Pro Day. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.19 seconds, while bench-pressing 28 times. His wingspan measured at 81 5/8 inches, his hand 10 inches and his arm 35 inches.
Before he arrived for Pro Day, Ball had already done numerous interviews with NFL teams.
“It’s been so crazy,” Ball said. “It’s so different from any other year. It’s a learning process.”
Ball said he plans to watch the draft with his family, who recently moved to King George County.
“It’s all God’s plan,” Ball said. “He has a story for every person. This is part of my story. He keeps writing it. I take it day by day. That’s all I can do.”