Considering the amount of first-time starters and overall debuts made this season on Arizona State’s roster, a bevy of options are available when considering who is the most improved player. It’d be far too easy to name someone who hadn’t played before, and say they improved compared to last year, but that would only consider a bigger workload and not an actual improvement in play.
Although Marcus Ball has taken on a much bigger role this season, the actual strides he has made in his play compared to his previous season are clear, and that is why he receives the midseason award.
A shoulder injury and other health issues forced Ball to redshirt in 2013 and 2015, respectively. As a sophomore in 2014, he provided depth at SPUR, but his impact was minimal as he continued to learn Todd Graham’s complex defensive scheme.
But this season, with redshirt senior Laiu Moeakiola out early with a hamstring issue, Ball stepped up at SPUR, providing the big hits and the range that his 6-foot-2, 223-pound frame touts.
His versatility has also been crucial of late, as injuries have forced Ball to play bandit safety in spots, and in most cases, he has excelled. His best game came in a 23-20 win over UCLA in which Ball recorded 10 solo tackles and an interception to earn Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.
On the season, Ball leads the team with total 59 tackles and 49 solo tackles. Todd Graham has repeatedly cited Ball as one of the most consistent players on the team, and he has also challenged Ball to tackle better in open space.
As the season has progressed, Ball has grown from a question mark as far as consistency and the role he would play into a player who has become nearly irreplaceable because of his ability to play multiple positions, multiple packages and solidify both the front seven and secondary.
Between all of the moving pieces in an injured and struggling defense, Ball has been a bright spot, especially considering the experience he will bring to the team next season in multiple positions. While ASU’s defense has been anything but spectacular, Ball’s improved instincts and tackling on top of his naturally imposing nature renders him as our most improved player at this point of the season.