After a year of
endless speculation and no small amount of anxiety, David Ball finally feels no
pressure about his assault on the collegiate record for touchdown catches.
"It's been fun but stressful at times," says Ball, a senior wide
receiver at New Hampshire. "Ninety-five percent of my conversations have
been about how, when and where I'll break the record. Everybody asks which game
they should go to, as if I had a crystal ball."
He came close to
breaking the record in last Saturday night's game at Delaware, pulling down
seven passes for 126 yards and once getting tackled at the one-yard line in the
Wildcats' 52-49 victory, but he didn't cross the goal line. That left him with
50 career TDs--tied with Jerry Rice, who set the I-AA mark in 1984 at
Mississippi Valley State, and Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards, who became the I-A
standard-bearer 14 years later.
Since Ball walked
on as a freshman in 2003, he has hauled in 241 passes for 3,934 yards.
"He's caught them one-handed, two-handed and off the ground from crazy
angles," says coach Sean McDonnell. Ball's limbs seem elasticized; his
spine is apparently boneless, like a cat's; and he can bound high on the run
off either foot. "David is a slippery noodle," says junior quarterback
Ricky Santos of his favorite target. "He can elude any defender and twist
away from any tackle."
have helped the Wildcats morph from an Atlantic 10 hair ball to the kings of
the I-AA jungle. With its lively spread offense, New Hampshire (4-0, including
a season-opening upset of Division 1-A Northwestern) leads the nation in
scoring (51 points a game) and total yards (489.5 a game). The Wildcats have
gotten into the red zone 20 times--and scored 20 TDs.
NFL scouts now
routinely show up at Cowell Stadium--a decrepit, 6,500-seat facility that's
smaller than most high school stadiums--to see Ball. The big question is
whether the 6'2" 200-pounder's speed is pro grade. (His best time in the
40-yard dash is a rather pedestrian 4.6 seconds.) "My potential is
huge," he says, "but a team would have to draw out that potential."
Scouts predict Ball could go as early as the third round of the NFL draft.
The son of a
granite salesman, Kenneth, and a middle school health teacher, Kathleen, David
was a three-sport star in the central Vermont hamlet of Orange, population 965.
("If you need gas, you have to drive clear to South Barre for a service
station," he says.) He was a 1,000-point scorer in basketball at Spaulding
High and still holds the state high jump record (6'81/2"). But football was
his passion. Still, his 52 receptions and 15 TDs as a senior were overshadowed
by his low SAT score and the even lower esteem in which Vermont football is
held. His only offer came from Division III Worcester (Mass.) State.
To improve his
prospects, Ball enrolled at Worcester Academy in 2002 for a postgrad year. To
afford the $35,000 tuition, his parents sold two of their cars and took out a
second mortgage. Ball played football, basketball and ran track and was named
Worcester's athlete of the year. He also caught the eye of former New Hampshire
assistant Steve Stetson, who raved about his soft hands and leaping ability.
Still, McDonnell was skeptical. "I didn't think David was fast enough,"
Ball ended up at
New Hampshire on a partial track scholarship. He won over McDonnell in summer
drills and caught 38 passes in 11 games during his first season, earning a full
scholarship to play football. In the opening game of his sophomore year,
against defending I-AA champion Delaware, Ball and Santos--a lightly regarded
redshirt freshman--connected for nine passes, including a 44-yard TD catch for
the winning score in a 24--21 victory. The next week they combined for two TDs
as New Hampshire stunned Rutgers 35--24, its first win ever against a 1-A
Ricky both came to UNH as unheralded small-town kids with chips on their
shoulders," says McDonnell. "They wanted to prove everyone wrong."
Ball has proved them wrong, all right. "The chase is over," he says.
"Now every TD will just add to my record."