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A Different Ball Game
by Rachel M. Collins '81

David Ball--the college senior making headlines in The New York Times and USA Today for his football prowess--came to UNH for one reason. "It was one of the few schools that showed even the slightest interest in me for athletics," he says. "Originally for track."

Once a freshman walk-on to the football team, Ball is now a UNH wide receiver chasing Division I-AA records set more than two decades ago by the legendary Jerry Rice.

In high school, Ball played football and basketball and ran track, and was named the school's male athlete of the year. He was a 1,000-point scorer in basketball and still holds the state high jump record. But his high school was located in Orange, Vt., population 965, and he went unnoticed by college scouts.

Even when Ball made the football team--after coach Sean McDonnell '78 watched tapes of the 6-foot 2-inch Ball playing basketball--he struggled to adapt to the collegiate game.

He spent the summer between his freshman and sophomore years working out, adding weight (20 pounds, to reach 200) and refining his routes. By the next fall, he was ready, and in the opening game against defending I-AA champion Delaware, he caught a 44-yard touchdown pass to cap the upset victory.

His story has an eerie similarity to the path followed by a fellow Walter Payton award contender, quarterback Ricky Santos '08. Santos, who is a good friend, was also overlooked by scouts; McDonnell decided to offer him a spot after watching his high school basketball tapes. Santos, too, buckled down the summer after his redshirt season at UNH, lifting weights, watching film and running. He was a fourth-string quarterback in the fall of 2004 when he was plucked from the bench and thrust into the game against Delaware.

The chemistry between Santos and himself, says Ball, is "such a natural thing, I can't even explain it. It's almost like fate for us to both come here together--choose this school--when no one was really giving us a chance."

This fall, UNH stunned Big Ten Northwestern by beating them 34-17 in the season's first game. The Union Leader described it as "the school's proudest moment in competition." UNH rolled over Stony Brook and Dartmouth and then beat Delaware 52-49 in a rollicking game a TV announcer called "the most entertaining football game I've ever seen in my life."

Double- and triple-covered at Delaware, Ball may end up playing decoy; it's a role he says he is prepared to accept. In UNH's no-huddle, unpredictable game, Ball lines up on the scrimmage line just about anywhere, making his defenders scramble. But the No. 1-ranked UNH team has depth: At Delaware, junior running back Chris Ward and freshman running back Chad Kackert were conspicuously present and Santos was the master of improvisation, accounting for 112 yards of rushing and twice taking the ball into the end zone himself.

Ball, a kinesiology major, wants to work with children and hopes to become an elementary school physical education teacher and coach. But if the NFL is interested, he's prepared to switch gears again. After all, when Ball is asked at what point football became his favorite sport, he answers--without hesitation--"my sophomore year of college."

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