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Hope for the undrafted

Record-holder Ball waits through long weekend

Posted: Monday April 30, 2007 2:34PM; Updated: Monday April 30, 2007 3:05PM
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David Ball broke Jerry Rice?s NCAA Division 1-AA record for touchdown receptions.
David Ball broke Jerry Rice?s NCAA Division 1-AA record for touchdown receptions.
Al Tielemans/SI

ORANGE, Vt. -- After breaking Jerry Rice's Division I-AA career record for touchdown receptions, David Ball figured he had a good chance of getting drafted over the weekend. Not on Saturday, during the first three rounds, to be sure -- but sometime on Sunday, in rounds four through seven. Plenty of mock drafts indicated that the name of the 6-foot-2, 200-pound University of New Hampshire star would reverberate in Radio City.

So on Sunday, Ball joined family and friends at the home of a neighbor in Orange, Vt., chosen because it gets decent cell-phone coverage, a feature not to be taken for granted in the Green Mountains where Ball grew up -- and absolutely essential for fielding calls from NFL teams as well as Ball's agent, Ralph Cindrich.

Rounds Four and Five passed, alas, without Ball getting the call. Several teams phoned to extend free-agent invitations -- but that wasn't exactly what Ball wanted to hear with dozens of picks left.

By the sixth round, Ball and his downcast buddies had abandoned the TV coverage to play Wiffle ball in the rain. They didn't hear NFL draftnik Adam Schefter point out that, "If you're a player sitting at home, take heart -- at this point, you'd rather not be picked!" Schefter's point: As a free agent, you can study depth charts and dope out the situation most advantageous to you.

As Round Seven played out without Ball getting selected, with it went the chance to be the next Marques Colston -- the next-to-last pick a year ago, who nearly wound up as rookie of the year. A cake with "David" and "NFL" in script on the icing sat half-eaten on a table.

Ball gathered with his parents, Ken and Kathy, for a post mortem. Maybe an old injury scared teams off -- but hadn't Ball put those doubts to rest by playing the entirety of a terrific senior season?

Maybe it was his middling 4.8 speed -- though given his hands, strength and intangibles, as David himself put it, "4.8 should be fast enough to get drafted."

A New England stoicism girded the Balls. There was acknowledgement that, at every turn in Ball's career, he had had to put the doubts of others to rest -- and here we were again. There'd always be Montreal of the CFL -- an easy drive for friends and family.

Not 30 minutes after which, Ball's cell phone rang. It was Cindrich with the news: The Bears wanted him at their minicamp. They hadn't drafted a wideout all weekend. They'd chosen a UNH teammate, cornerback Corey Graham, in Round Five, so had followed Ball closely. And the Bears front office, Ball's agent reported, really liked his game.

It wasn't the same as getting drafted. Not a penny of signing bonuses was built into this turn of events. But for a guy who had always taken the hard way, it fit the narrative to this point perfectly -- and as a mud-season weekend wound down, that one cell-phone call, cutting through the granite hills, turned New England disappointment into Chicago hope.