When Blaine sophomore Anthony Ball was playing fullback in middle school, he knew eventually he’d be a wide receiver.
Ball’s always been a standout on the football field, but growing up his size and strength development didn’t match his ever-improving skill.
“They noticed everyone was growing, but I wasn’t growing as much with them, so I wasn’t built for fullback,” Ball explained. “They tried me out at wideout, and they noticed that was a good spot for me.”
That good spot has been more of a great fit for the Borderites’ sophomore, whose 15 catches for 271 yards and four touchdowns rank fifth among Northwest Conference wide receivers this year.
What’s arguably more impressive than Ball’s ability to play so well so young has been his rapid rise to becoming Blaine’s go-to target.
Ball, although he admitted he’s always had good hands, never played the wide receiver position before high school. Once moved out wide, Ball’s been forced to learn all the minute route-running, footwork and blocking details required to become a strong wide receiver.
Ball quickly made such an impression on coach Jay Dodd that six weeks into his freshman year he was suiting up Friday nights.
“Last year we had Josiah Westbrook, and we were kind of searching for someone to put opposite of him,” Dodd explained. “Anthony was just doing really well at the freshman level. I got to watch a few freshman games, so we brought him up for a few practices, and he started to click right away with Nathan (Kramme). We said, ‘Heck with playing on the freshman team, why don’t you come up and play Fridays?’”
Ball led the Borderites with five catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns his first varsity game, a lopsided win against Friday Harbor in Week 6 last season, and Ball’s knack for making big plays has been evident ever since.
His latest case came last week during Blaine’s 20-19 win over Sehome when Ball bounced back from a late fumble to catch a game-winning 12-yard TD pass from Kramme.
“I think he’s just a competitor,” Dodd said. “He’ll try to get as many yards and score as many touchdowns throughout the game, but when it comes to the end of the game, I think he’s very confident in himself and confident in his ability and kind of likes that moment of having the last play or having the last couple of minutes come down to himself making a play.”
Ball agreed. He relishes making plays in pressure-packed moments.
“I like being in a bigger role,” said Ball, who’s been added to Blaine’s secondary this season. “It puts more pressure on me and makes me a better player. I just like having the pressure on me, and making plays (under) pressure, it’s just the best feeling in the world.”
Kramme knows a thing or two about Ball’s ability to contribute early in his career. The Borderites senior quarterback also played as a freshman, and while the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Ball may not yet have prototypical size, Kramme said he has all the intangibles a QB desires in a trusty receiver.
The duo’s strong rapport began last year during, translated into the offseason and now seems stronger than ever.
“It’s no secret, Anthony’s not the tallest, he’s not the strongest and he’s not the fastest,” Kramme said, “but I know he’s going to give 100 percent, and I know he is going to do everything in his power to come down with the ball, so I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
And Ball’s development couldn’t have arrived at a better time. With the offseason departure of Westbrook to Squalicum, a major void existed in Blaine’s receiving corp. Veteran wideout Cody Gobbato has played well, but no one has been quite matched both Ball’s reliability and big-play aptitude.
Dodd credited Ball’s success, beyond his strong knowledge of the game, to his route-running and innate hand-eye coordination.
And while Ball’s made enough plays he’s no longer surprising teammates, sometimes he still shocks himself.
“Some catches are like, ‘I really caught that?’ Ball said. “It gets me sometimes, and I know that it makes me feel like I can catch these balls.”
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.