Most will remember Kyle Ball’s first play in a Kansas State uniform for the way it ended, with the freshman defensive end sacking Texas quarterback Shane Buechele for a nine-yard loss that forced the Longhorns to punt.
But Ball will recall the moment for another reason. As fun as it was to make a crowd-pleasing hit on the first play of his college career Saturday, he can’t shake the emotions that followed. Things lined up so unbelievably perfect that he had an out-of-body experience.
“It was pretty surreal being out there on the field making that play,” Ball said. “It didn’t even feel like it was me. I felt like I was watching someone else do it.”
Oh, it was him all right.
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After driving to the K-State 30 on its opening possession, Texas was knocked out of field goal range when Ball weaseled his way through the left side of the Longhorns’ offensive line and drove Buechele to the ground before he could locate his receivers.
“I didn’t even know what to do,” Ball said. “I just clapped my hands. I was pumped. As soon as I went to the sideline my teammates congratulated me. I was just living in the moment.”
Things slowed down from there, as Ball’s dream sack turned out to be his only tackle of the game. Nothing about the rest of the afternoon felt surreal. But his day was made.
It also made his past year and a half of work worthwhile. Ball, a former Shawnee Mission East standout, was a late arrival to K-State last season after agreeing to delay enrollment for a semester, or grayshirt, coming out of high school. Little was expected out of him this season, especially when he underwent surgery two weeks ago to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb, but that changed Saturday.
With a purple cast covering most of his right forearm and hand, K-State coaches informed Ball he was likely going to play against Texas as a member of the team’s third-and-long defense and he took advantage of the opportunity.
Whenever the Wildcats force an opponent into an obvious passing situation, they replace their defensive tackles with defensive ends and tell them to go after the quarterback. Ball is now a member of that pass-rush unit.
He made the most out of his extra preparation time by putting on muscle and helping coach freshmen defensive linemen at his old high school, and it’s beginning to show.
“He is that Jordan Willis type of young guy,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said, comparing Ball to the team’s top defensive end. “Not as big and doesn’t have the experience, but you just watch him every day and he plays as hard as he can and practices as hard as he can. Every single play, he is always going 100 miles per hour.”
Ball is driven to succeed.
Before every practice and every game he says he pictures his little brother, Caleb, who was diagnosed with leukemia a year ago. Ball helped care for his sibling after he graduated from high school, something he could only have done while grayshirting, and is happy to report Caleb is now doing well.
“He’s really tough, doesn’t ever complain about anything that has happened to him,” Ball said. “He has fought and really overcome a whole bunch of odds. He has fought and basically beaten it. He is in the maintenance stage.”
Ball dedicated his first game to his little brother and plans to do the same this week when K-State takes on Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium.
“That was the person I pictured in my mind,” Ball said. “I laid it all out on the line for him. It was cool to get that first sack for him.”
If all goes well, he can deliver another sack this week. Maybe this time it won’t register as an out-of-body experience.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett