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COLUMN: Marcelino Ball could be the key to IU's success on defense


Freshman Marcelino Ball hugs safeties coach Noah Joseph. Ball started at husky in his first career collegiate game and earned praise from teammates and coaches for his performance. Courtesy Photo and Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

The keys to IU’s defense are in the hands of a 17-year-old.

True freshman Marcelino Ball is the Hoosiers’ biggest X-factor, even with only one college game under his belt.

Throughout the fall, Ball earned rave reviews from the IU coaching staff. Then, he got the start at the husky position in his first career collegiate game Thursday against Florida International.

He didn’t disappoint.

“I wasn’t that surprised with his performance,” IU defensive coordinator Tom Allen said. “I knew he would make some mistakes because he’s young. He’s in a position where he’s going to be around the ball by our scheme, so he’s a great fit for that spot.”

The husky position is a perfect spot for an athlete like Ball who can easily be the hybrid player Allen wants.

Hybrid players are currently the rage in the NFL, and having a player who can fulfill so many roles unlocks a team’s defensive potential.

The most successful NFL and college defenses have a difference-making linebacker-safety hybrid who can be the fulcrum of the defense. Arizona Cardinals’ Deone Bucannon and recently drafted Washington Redskins’ Su’a Cravens fit this new mold perfectly. With the proliferation of spread offenses and high-tempo approaches, hybrid players are a must because they can stay on the field no matter what formation the offense is in.

Ball can do a little bit of everything, from covering receivers and tight ends to blitzing and stopping the run. IU has many options at the husky position, but he fits the mold perfectly.

While Ball isn’t fully formed as a player, his development is key to the defense’s potential. As he develops, this defense will too.

Ball’s numbers from the first game don’t immediately stand out — one pass breakup and only one unassisted tackle — but he was still impressive. Whenever he made a mistake, he bounced back immediately.

“Marcelino is a tough guy, so I knew he would bounce back well,” junior defensive back Tony Fields said. “It’s very impressive for his first game to make a mistake and come back the next play and make a great play for our defense.”

Ball’s speed allowed him to be in the right spot at the right times. He made plays that didn’t show up in the stat sheet.

“Sometimes you make mental mistakes, but you have to come back the next play and keep it going,” Ball said in a video on

Junior linebacker Tegray Scales liked what he saw from Ball against FIU.

“I saw what I saw in practice,” Scales said. “(He was) just flying to the ball, great confidence and a player who is going to make plays for us in the games to come.”

The games to come — which are against Ball State and Wake Forest — are perfect for players like Ball. These aren’t the most difficult games and will allow him to grow in confidence and develop as a player. Any mistakes he makes against these teams can help prepare him for games against Ohio State and Michigan State.

Ball isn’t going to be asked to do too much too soon. The coaches will ease him into his freshman season and unleash him in specific situations where he can succeed. But he’s a different type of player who will be hard to keep off the field.

“He’s wired a little differently,” Allen said. “He came here to play. He didn’t come here to sit back, be a backup.”

The defense showed a lot of positive signs of development against the Golden Panthers., but having a player like him would allow this defense to be better. Allen knows Ball’s potential.

“The sky’s the limit,” Allen said.

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