Photo: Neiron Ball (No. 11) picked off his first career pass on Saturday against Georgia.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Life has been all about baby steps for Gators linebacker Neiron Ball since early 2011 when he was rushed to the hospital with an excruciating headache.
Ball missed the entire 2011 season due to a congenital vascular disorder known as arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal connection between veins and arteries in the brain. He was cleared in late summer to return to football and rejoined the Gators for fall camp.
A redshirt sophomore from Jackson, Ga., Ball reached another milestone in Saturday’s 17-9 loss to Georgia when he intercepted the first pass of his UF career. Ball’s interception led to a Caleb Sturgis field goal.
“You were thrilled,’’ Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Wednesday when asked about Ball’s grab off a deflected pass. “The other guys were as well.”
Ball’s story is better known to most than what kind of player he is. Based on what Quinn has seen Ball is a pretty good one.
“I really feel like he’s got a huge future in front of him,’’ Quinn said of the 6-foot-3, 231-pound outside linebacker. “I keep seeing him improve each week. It really speaks to his competitive side and what he’s about.”
Ball has played in all eight games and started twice – the season opener against Bowling Green and the home win over LSU. He has nine tackles, two fumble recoveries, a pass breakup and now an interception.
Ball’s return to the field was a long one. While he’s glad to be back, Ball knows he has room for improvement.
“There are some positives and negatives, but I’m just thankful for the opportunity,’’ Ball said of his season to date. “I feel blessed. It’s still coming along. My body is kind of beat up.”
Ball met with reporters Tuesday in his first group interview since his return. He said he has shared his comeback story with teammates, fellow students and those friends at home in Georgia experiencing difficult times.
The message is to keep fighting and never give up.
“There has been some adversity,’’ Ball said of his career.
As for that interception, Ball was pleased. But not too pleased at the outcome.
“It felt great,’’ he said. “It’s against my home state. I kind of don’t even like to talk about it. The loss overshadows it.”
Ball’s interception might be nothing more than a footnote in Florida’s first loss of the season, but his comeback is to be continued.