Senior Kyle Ball stands inside the Iowa State practice facilities awaiting instruction in June, four hours away from home. The ISU coaching staff divides close to 200 high school football players into groups A through G by skill level. The players have not performed a single drill when they receive their groups. Coaches running the camp and over 30 other school representatives present have already read the stats, watched the film, and started to evaluate every big name on the field before Ball even crossed the border into Iowa.
His 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound stature and junior stats earn him a spot in the top group. As he moves with other players to start warm ups for a day of football camp, more than 30 coaches from area programs gather around the group A players to observe.
“When we warmed up, they were talking to all of us in our line and basically ignoring everyone else in the camp, ” Ball said. “They were watching you the entire time.”
After Ball’s junior year, he began to receive mail ranging from personal letters signed by coaches like Bill Snyder to mock magazine covers with his face photoshopped onto a college uniform. Then recruiting officers visited the East weight room to speak with him about their schools. When summer came, Ball was invited to area recruiting camps held by universities to allow coaches and recruiters to see the region’s top prospects.
Ball’s dad took him out to the backyard to teach him how to tackle when he was four years old. When Ball started preschool, he got in trouble for he tackling other children on the playground, thinking everyone else would play the same way he did.
These early childhood memories have faded from Ball’s mind, but he never forgot how to make a tackle. Ball played in his first football game in fifth grade. Six years later, he made 107 tackles, became the Sunflower League defensive player of the year and received his first Division I offer from South Dakota State.
Ball always knew he would want to carry football into college. To reach this goal, he can never be content with what he has already done or the recognition he has already received. For now, he must learn to block out the distractions of recruitment when game time arrives.
As he took the field for the Lancers’ season opener in Gardner on Sept. 5, more than classmates and parents watched his performance. In the stands and on the sideline, Ball knew representatives from the Universities of Kansas, Northern Iowa and Wyoming traveled to what he could do. Everyone wanted to see how last year’s Kansas Underclassmen Defensive Player of the Year began his senior season.
Last season, he made the all city team for Preps KC, completed 28 tackles for a loss and clocked a 4.58 forty yard dash over the summer. Ball and college recruiters will not settle for anything less this year.
A total of nine tackles with five for a loss and two sacks helped East shut out the Gardner Edgerton Trailblazers in a 40 point victory. When he watches the first game’s film, he does not count the plays he ended. Ball pays attention to every lapse in focus, mistakes lining up for plays, holes in the line he could have filled — opportunities for improvement.
“I don’t want to coast on my success,” Ball said. “I just want to constantly get better.”
Twelve hours after Ball left Gardner Edgerton’s stadium, he is standing back inside Iowa State’s Jack Trice stadium, but he is not here to win over any coaches. This time, It is Iowa State’s chance to impress Ball. A yellow sticker on his lanyard identifies Ball as one of the team’s more serious prospects. Throughout the day, assistant coaches speak to him one on one, and head coach Paul Rhoads come to shake his hand.
When Ball returns home from Iowa after enjoying VIP access to the Cylcones game, a stack of letters from area colleges waits for him on a side table. From the outside, the envelopes look like generic college letters any first semester senior would receive. Inside, they are packed with game tickets, signed letters from coaches and flyers decorated with college football players.
“We have acquired your name as someone who has the desire and the ability to continue playing football at the collegiate level…”
“We really liked your junior film…”
“You have been identified as one of our top prospects…”
Although Ball’s recruiting process never stops, when he travels back to Prairie Village, his top priority is a state title, not a Division I scholarship. His experiences with collegiate programs, however, applies to his goals at East. When Ball learns new techniques and moves from college coaches, he brings the information back to East’s program.
“He has brought that knowledge back and shared that with me and his peers,” defensive line coach Miles Martin said. “When upperclassmen get to that point, they always have a special place where they become coaches to the underclassmen.”
Ball feels the expectation to be a leader on the team his senior year. He is the only player on the current East roster to start three consecutive years. In practices, tells the younger players where they can tighten up. During games, Ball is one of the team captains pumping up the rest of the team.
“When he gets going, everyone else starts to get going,” senior Jack Anderson said. “When he gets fired up, he headbutts people.”
Earlier this year, Ball watched a group of underclassmen in his weights class lift and thought they could push themselves harder. Now, he joins their group for exercises to ensure that they can maximize their potential. Two graduated classes have shown Ball how to take a leadership role on the team.
In the 2012 season, Ball was the only sophomore starting the playoff game against Olathe East. Then-senior David Stewart dislocated his shoulder during a play on defense and left the game only after officials forced him to go to the sideline. Trainers reset his shoulder steps away from the East crowd, and Stewart returned to the game moments later. Ball is trying to match and exceed that level of toughness his senior year.
“No matter what the situation was, [those players] never stopped fighting,” Ball said. “I do what I do today because of [that class].”
Kyle’s experience and accomplishments have already made him a standout, but to win a 6A state championship and inside a collegiate locker room, he can never be content.
“I’ve always wanted to play college football,” Ball said. “I was blessed to have the genes that I do and position where I live. I want to do the best that I can and live up to that, not take it for granted.”