Ball clinches his teeth and clasps his hands tightly on top of one another, like he’s molding an unruly ball of clay.
“It was like someone was smushing my brain,” he says. The medical condition — a tangling of the brain’s blood vessels, causing cranial bleeding —plucked Neiron Ball from the football field for the entire ‘11 season. Now, back as a redshirt sophomore, the Florida linebacker is off the sidelines and back to grinding for the Gators.
Ball stems from Jackson, Ga., — a town nestled about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta. He entered the University of Florida as a 4-star prospect from Jackson High School. The Georgia boy in him still shines through today — ever-present in his soft, southern voice that emits the soft “yes sirs” that kick off his sentences.
In his inaugural season with the orange and blue, Ball played in all 13 of the Gators’ matchups, rounding out the ’10 season with 10 tackles to his name.
But because of the unpredicted plague of his medical condition in 2011, Ball wouldn’t get his chance at another tackle until September of this season. Due to the fact Ball had a year out of his pads, he says his body is finally getting back in the swing of getting beat up.
“But I’m still fighting through it,” Ball says.
Ball returned to play in Florida’s opening game against Bowling Green—the first time he suited up for official competition since his freshman year.
He welcomed his first game back by tallying one assisted tackle.
Now eight games deep into the current season, Ball is one tackle shy of matching his 10-tackle first season with the Gators. But this past weekend against Georgia, he registered something he hadn’t yet during his collegiate career.
During the first quarter against the Bulldogs, Ball intercepted quarterback Aaron Murray’s middle pass to chalk up the first interception of his career.
“Oh, it felt good,” Ball says of his first pick. “It felt real good. It felt great.”
He said that moment was the one he’s enjoyed most thus far on the field.
But the hurt that sidelined Ball the season prior to the current is something that has imprinted his life far beyond the goal posts.
After all, nearly two years ago, Ball withstood indescribable pain and bounced back from brain surgery.
Now, he says he shares his story of pushing through adversity wherever he goes — whether it’s in the locker room or back home in Georgia.
Though he says his progress on the field is still coming along (he’s about 5 lbs. underweight), it’s the bigger picture he’s gracious for.
“I feel blessed and I just have to keep going,” Ball says. “I mean, there are some positives and negatives, but I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”