Kyle Ball’s numbers last season don’t necessarily jump off the page.
Sixteen tackles (four for loss). Two sacks. Five quarterback hurries.
But they were good enough to earn an All-Big 12 honorable mention accolade, which is significant considering Ball wasn’t entirely pleased with how his 2018 campaign unfolded.
“I got to start last year, and I was really excited,” said Ball, a senior defensive end for Kansas State. “And then at the Oklahoma game — I don’t know how much people knew about it — I tore my pectoral, so I was out the last bit of the season. That was pretty frustrating because I was kind of on stand-by, and then I had surgery after the season. But I was excited to come back, so I did all my rehab and got my numbers in the weight room back up, so I’m just as strong as I was when I hurt it. Now with this new defense and new schemes, everything is going really well, and I’m trying to get it down during camp and get ready to go for the season.”
Despite the circumstances, that Oklahoma game might have been the best game of Ball’s K-State career. He had his best tackling game as a Wildcat, with seven tackles, and notched a tackle for a loss for the third consecutive game. Ball ranked fourth on the team in tackles for loss on the season.
Ball wants to be even better.
During his rehabilitation efforts over the summer, Ball didn’t even take Saturdays off, he said. There were obstacles to hurdle to get back to full health, because he had to do his weight lifting — specifically squats — carefully to avoid irritating or re-injuring himself. But the process he went through was successful.
“We would do some blood flow restriction stuff, and the whole idea behind it is to keep you at that muscle mass without having to do too much weight,” Ball said. “So I’m not able to lose much of that mass during the comeback time after surgery, and I think that is why I was able to come back in the weight room pretty quick to get my bench and squat clean.”
Once Ball regained his health, he then had to learn a completely new defensive scheme. If there were to be a theme to the Kansas State off-season, it could be change, as the coaching staff has mixed things up. That includes how Ball and the linebackers behind him play.
“I’m liking what we are doing on defense,” Ball said. “I like our schemes, what we are putting in and I think it will be pretty exciting to see how we do against Big 12 teams in the spread. (Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Scottie) Hazelton’s philosophy is aggressive football. As an example, the way we are tackling is changing. Just a simple thing like tackling, we are breaking it down. We are taking shots. We know if we go down the outside to take an outside hip, we know our two buddies are going on the other hip.”
This also means the players will take more shots, because the aggressive style of play has a purpose of chasing the football. Ball said he hopes this will help the Wildcats climb to the top of the Big 12’s defensive ranks; that’s the goal for his unit.
While Ball is enjoying the new style of defensive football, there still was a significant learning curve to take on as a senior who knew the old playbook well.
“There are different patterns and methodologies behind it, but really it was surprising to pick up all those new plays and get used to the schemes and start over,” Ball said. “It was fun because it didn’t matter if you were a new guy or an old guy, we are all starting the same day with new information, and it’s just picking it up and learning it together.”
Recovery and playbook studying isn’t all Ball is tasked with as a senior on a young team, either. He has to be a leader, and the defensive line is one of the most seasoned components of the team this season.
“There’s younger guys on the field who don’t have as much experience right now, and a lot of that is they are not usually as talkative because they are trying to get down their role,” Ball said. “But for me, one of the things I like to do is do my job well, and then when somebody else makes a play, I try and hype them up and get the energy going to lead by example.”