The word best used to describe Florida Gators linebacker Neiron Ball’s career? Perseverance.
While the redshirt senior will miss the Florida’s Senior Day Saturday against Eastern Kentucky with a season-ending knee injury, the ability to push through adversity led to a strong career for the Jackson, Georgia native.
Ball’s high school career was indicative of the success he would enjoy in college. In his senior year, Ball was named all-state defensive line in Georgia class AAA. After passing up offers from Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina, the linebacker signed with the Gators.
Ball saw action in his freshman year, playing on special teams during kickoffs and kick returns. Over 13 games, Ball had 10 tackles, one of them for a loss. While the numbers weren’t notable, more was expected for the linebacker in the future until the following offseason changed the course of Ball’s career, showing the perseverance the player would be known for.
Following a February 2011 workout, Ball suffered a headache that progressively became worse as the hours went on. Ball’s high school trainer would take him to the hospital, where it was discovered the linebacker had busted a brain vessel as the result of an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a hereditary condition where arteries and veins are abnormally connected. With bleeding on the brain, living, not football, was a concern for Ball, his family, and head coach Will Muschamp.
Ball redshirted the 2011 season as he healed from his injury. In June 2012, the linebacker was cleared to return to football-related activities, and played 11 games during the season, starting against Bowling Green and LSU. Ball had 10 tackles, two fumble recoveries and one interception. Following the season, Ball was a 2013 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion finalist.
The following season, Ball had his best year to date, starting seven out of 12 games and accumulating 25 tackles. The then-redshirt junior also had his first career sack in the November 30 contest against Florida State. It was a glimpse of what many knew the linebacker could do, Ball seemingly turning a corner after being derailed by the AVM. Ball earned the team’s Chris Patrick Courage Award at the end of the year.
This season Ball has had improved upon 2013 with 49 tackles, nearly double the amount of last year. He had a career-high 9 tackles against South Carolina and has posted a personal best of two sacks this season. Ball has also had an impact on the game without making the stat sheet, moving around the field, getting near the ball carrier and slowing him down for some of Florida’s gang tackles. Ball has had five quarterback hurries and one forced fumble.
While Ball won’t be playing the rest of the season, the linebacker has shown the ability many expected of him when he signed with the Gators. More importantly, Ball has shown the will to make it through whatever adversity he may face on or off the field. For a guy who didn’t know if he would continue his football career, Neiron Ball bounced back finish his time at Florida the same way he’s finished plays during games.