All-star closure for Scott lineman
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Scott offensive and defensive lineman Dakota Ball is one of several players who will likely play his last competitive football in the North-South Football Classic at 7 p.m. Saturday at Laidley Field.
The fact that Ball is playing at all is just another example of the toughness and determination he showed throughout the end of his senior season.
Ball was a first-team all-state and Cardinal Conference selection this past season, despite missing two of the Skyhawks' final three regular-season games with a torn meniscus and ACL in his left knee. The injury occurred while playing defense in the first quarter of the Skyhawks' 47-6 loss to eventual Class AA champion Wayne.
"When I went down I heard a pop and I knew something was wrong," Ball said at the South's practice Thursday afternoon in Institute. "I tried to stand up and it just wasn't happening."
After sitting out a couple of games and beginning light rehab, his knee showed enough improvement for the doctor to leave Ball with a couple of choices - either undergo surgery immediately or try using a special knee brace, delaying surgery, and testing his pain tolerance.
The choice was easy for Ball, who continued his senior season and, appropriately enough, returned on Scott's senior night in the season finale against Logan.
He played sparingly throughout Scott's playoff run, and although he was less than 100 percent and had his playing time limited, Ball said he is happy with the decision he made.
"There were times where [the pain] was bad but it was worth it," Ball said.
Scott won its first-round playoff game before falling to Keyser in the second round, finishing with a record of 8-4 after spending a good deal of time ranked No. 1 early in the season.
After the season, Ball did undergo surgery on the knee and worked himself back into shape in time to participate in this week's practices and festivities.
"[Rehab] was really hard because you can't go out and work your butt off," Ball explained. "To get back you've got to be really patient and take your time with it."
Ball said the experience of playing with other elite seniors in Class AA and beyond has made his patience and rehab worth it.
"It's nice to meet all the people I've been playing against and figure out how they practiced and how everything went for them," Ball said. "I've met a lot of people I never knew and it's been great hanging out with them all week. It's been a real fun experience for me."
Now that he's here, Ball will play center and some defensive line for the South, blocking for the likes of Wayne's Brandon Spurlock and others.
Spurlock and the Pioneers handed Scott its first loss of the season and nearly put Ball out for good, but maybe the best thing about this week is watching rival players put past gridiron conflicts aside and compete together.
Ball said he is just fine opening up holes for the talented runner from Wayne.
"It's great having him on my team now, I'm very thankful he's on my team," Ball said.
South coach Joe Dean of Midland Trail has 35 players, each of whom has a unique story, but he said coaching players like Ball this week has been rewarding.
"It's a really nice story and he's a great young man, too," Dean said. "We have a great group here."
For many of Dean's group, Saturday will mark the end of a career in terms of football.
Ball is included, but will try to establish a career elsewhere by attending the University of Northwestern Ohio and pursuing a degree in diesel technology. He was unable to find a school that offered both football and that particular degree, and Ball made the decision to hang up his pads for good.
He admitted he would eventually like to return to the game as a coach, but after a devastating knee injury nearly kept him out of the most important games of his senior season, having one more game and being able to write his own ending will be closure enough.
"No regrets, but it's going to be bittersweet," Ball said. "I feel blessed to at least have one more game under my belt."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/Rpritt.