It's the end of the world.
That's what Marcus Ball thought last season when he suffered a significant injury for the first time in his football career.
Ball was just days from beginning his first season in the desert as Arizona State's starting safety when he injured his shoulder at Camp Tontozona. A true freshman who had arrived on campus during the summer, Ball was poised to carry the torch for the 2013 recruiting class.
With a range of physical tools, an understanding of complex defensive concepts, and a nose for the football, the Sun Devil coaches were excited to test out one of their youngest players with the starting 11.
And then, after battling to win the starting job and emerging as a playmaker, Ball went down. The Sun Devils were left scrambling during their final days leading up to the Sacramento State contest, and Ball was left heartbroken over his predicament.
"Being a freshman, being 17 or 18 years old, when you get hurt you think the world is over," Ball said. "When you think the world is over, you have an attitude and you have a mindset and that mindset is negative."
At first, Ball admits he carried that negative mindset through the opening weeks of the season. He acknowledged that he wasn't himself, and it took him a long time to realize that his injury could actually turn into an opportunity.
"At first, I wasn't getting better, I was showing up late for meetings sometimes, I wasn't getting better because I was so mad about being injured, my first time being injured," Ball said. "Then I came with a different mindset, and it turned out to be a blessing."
When Ball was hurt, he could have closed himself off. But instead, he decided to turn to the people who meant the most to him, those who inspired him to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Ball's brother Ray, an offensive lineman at Wisconsin, his cousin Montee, a running back with the Denver Broncos, and his fellow safety, Alden Darby, all helped the freshman cope with his situation.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Ball heeded the advice of his mentors and made the most of his year. The seasoned veterans knew that Ball could contribute to the Sun Devils, and that he could use his time on the sidelines as a learning experience.
"All three of those guys have something in common and that's that they're like big brothers to me," Ball said. "They've always kept my head on straight, telling me to never be complacent, always learn something new, find a way."
By the middle of last season, Ball was finding a way. Saddled with a green non-contact jersey at practice, Ball began making noticeable strides during his conditioning and training sessions. But more importantly, the Ohio native mastered his mental approach. Ball never lost sight of the Sun Devils' schemes, and that's why he's in a unique spot this spring.
Even though he's still taking precautions and donning the non-contact jersey, Ball is sharing first-team repetitions with the defense during team drills. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound specimen switched over to the bandit safety spot on the boundary side of the field, and is again receiving an extended look from the coaching staff.
While Ball isn't hitting, he is putting his body in the position to be successful, gaining a feel for where he should be on the field, and enjoying every second of spring practices.
"It's exciting. It's awesome. I've been out for a long time so just to get out here and get active, it's just exciting," Ball said. "I can't hit yet, but I love my team, we're aggressive out there, we're having fun."
The Sun Devil coaches could have decided to withhold Ball from team drills altogether during his recovery. Arizona State could easily discern that Jordan Simone, James Johnson, Jayme Otomewo or any number of the young defensive backs deserve more time on the field during team periods. But the staff has held firm and rotated Ball in during important series this spring.
"It's an opportunity they've given me since day one," Ball said of taking first-team repetitions. "And I feel I've worked hard enough, I'm a high character guy, and I deserve to run with the ones."
The transition to college has obviously challenged Ball in more ways than he expected, but he's confident that his newfound approach to the game will pay off. Ball already knows what the so-called end of the world feels like, and with all four years of eligibility remaining, he expects to make the most of the world from this point forward.