TEMPE, Ariz. -- General Patton would approve of the Arizona State defense.
In just one year, the Sun Devils made a transition from a bend-but-don’t-break unit into one of the nation’s most aggressive attacking forces.
Last fall, playing with largely returning players, ASU led the nation in tackles-for-loss and finished second in sacks, after finishing 57th and 59th respectively in 2011.
L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace indeed.
Beyond just being highly effective, the Sun Devils’ defensive philosophy is very appealing for prospective recruits and one newcomer in particular.
“It’s why I’m here. I’m here because of that attacking scheme,” said Marcus Ball. “You can’t get a better situation than that.”
Yet even with the allure of the defense, Ball’s road to Tempe was far from certain.
Ball prepped at Westerville South High School in Westerville, Ohio, a region that is far from a hotbed for Sun Devil recruiting efforts. While starring as both a quarterback and defensive back for South, Ball drew a slew of offers from many of the region’s powers, such as Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State and Notre Dame, among others.
Ball ended up committing to Wisconsin, where his older brother Ray is an offensive lineman. Ball was recruited to Madison by then-Badgers wide receiver coach DelVaughn Alexander, who came to ASU to join Todd Graham’s staff prior to the 2012 season.
Despite Alexander’s move, Ball remained committed to Wisconsin. However, after head coach Bret Bielema left the Badgers for Arkansas, Ball reconsidered his options. He held onto his original commitment until the very end, but ultimately, the allure of the defense and his relationship with Alexander helped lead him to ASU on National Signing Day.
“It wasn’t tough at all after what had happened in my recruitment,” Ball said of decommitting from Wisconsin. “The coach left from Wisconsin, and that’s not a place that I wanted to stay any longer. After coming out here and having met Coach Graham and seeing how he runs things. It was all about coming out here and getting a feel for it in person.”
Another major factor that appealed to Ball was the program’s overall focus on accountability, integrity, and determination, values that became apparent to him upon his first meeting with Graham.
“They are going to push you to the limit. You think your expectations are high, but theirs are a lot higher. They are going to push you until you meet it. Anyone can tell you that Coach Graham has this thing running. He’s a respectful guy, he pushes you. He’s going to do what he says. He’s a man of his word. I’ve seen that from day one when he came into my living room and looked me in the eye.”
On the field, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Ball brings a wealth of athleticism and talent to a team that covets such versatility. During the recruiting process, Ball was projected to be a fit at a number of positions, including wide receiver, safety, linebacker and even tight end.
While his skills fit in a number of places, Ball believes his best long term fit will be at safety, which is where he will start his Sun Devil career.
“You have to take care of what is in front of you, but you have to have an eye towards the future,” Ball said. “Thinking about my future and future plans, I think defense will benefit me more and be something that I can go on to another level and play.”
Being a safety in ASU’s defense and facing a tough Pac-12 schedule requires a player to be equally adept at defending the run and the pass, as well as a ball hawking ability. Ball believes he fits that bill.
“Being in the Pac-12, it’s the ‘Happy Pass Pac’. They pass a lot and there are a lot of opportunities in the air,” said Ball. “At the same time, you can be versatile because there are teams that are going to run it. When you play teams like Stanford, you have to show that you can hit. You have to be versatile, and I think I am versatile. It fits my style.”
And what exactly is that style? Ball breaks it down succinctly.
“I’m a playmaker. I’ve got a knack for the ball, I’m a big hitter, and I’m hungry.”
Even though he’ll line up in the secondary initially, the door is not closed on the team using his talents on offense.
“I think Coach Alexander wants to steal me a little bit. First and foremost, I’m a team player. If they need me on that side of the ball, or they need me to do anything, I’m going to do it.”
Ball’s transition into college football is being eased by the veteran presence of fellow safety Alden Darby.
“He’s a great guy. Like Coach Ball and I say all the time, he never has a bad day,” said Ball. “He’s always smiling. He’s a captain and he’s a leader. Seeing his highlights and what he can do, I can’t wait to play next to him. Since Day One that I’ve been here, he’s had my back, and he knows that I’m going to have his back. I tell him, ’14, 10 (Ball’s jersey number) and 4 (Darby’s).’”
Beyond the football field, Ball has also quickly embraced the program’s emphasis on being a well rounded and community-oriented individual.
“I’m going to take care of business on and off the field all of the time,” said Ball. “I’m going to be a guy of high character. I’m going to serve the community. That’s what Sun Devils do. We do it the right way, the PT42 Pat Tillman way. When it comes to being on the field, I’m going to give it my all for the guys and for the coaches.”
Ball, who will wear jersey No. 10 for the Sun Devils, has set some lofty goals for himself this year, as he wants to follow in D.J. Foster and Jaxon Hood’s footsteps as a Freshman All-American. But he realizes that he must take things one step at a time.
“I can’t wait to get to the first game, to get to camp, and get this thing rolling.”