A conversation with Chris Ball

Arizona State secondary coach Chris Ball heads up a group that has ranked among the national leaders in multiple statistical categories in each of the last two seasons. We spoke with him recently about that and much more.

Chris Karpman: So Coach just wrapping up this season, when you look at what your group was able to accomplish given whatever challenges there were going in, how did you feel?

Chris Ball: Good, felt good about it. You know anytime you have to replace that many starters…

Karpman: Three all league guys, really four.

Ball: Yeah, so I mean it was good. I felt good but I think we’re in a good place right now to set us up for a lot of success this year. But I think anytime you have three starters back at your position you’ve got a chance, you know, plus your nickel guy is back so you got a chance.

Karpman: Was that as rewarding as the first year in terms of enjoying the group?

Ball: Yeah, it’s a quality group, you know when you recruit and finally get your group together to where you want it in your (secondary) room, I call it your room, and you really really get to enjoy the benefits of it. I think this coming [season] we’re going to enjoy it more than we did last year.

Karpman: Coach (Todd) Graham said Jordan Simone was the biggest surprise last year for him, I’m guessing you weren’t that surprised?

Ball: No, I knew as well as any. My only concern was that was he going to be athletic enough to do it. But I knew what he had inside of him and if given the opportunity he’d perform at a high level. But there are some things that he did shock me with, with you know the way he played, his physical play shocked me. I was pleasantly surprised at some of the things.

Karpman: He just has no fear for a guy his size.

Ball: There’s no hesitation.

Karpman: What about him as a leader? I felt even as a walk-on he had leadership qualities.

Ball: Yeah he’ll be one of our best leaders this year, he might be the captain of our football team. He’s just got that thing that you just can’t coach. He’s got the ‘it’ factor, [that’s] the thing you gotta recruit, he’s got all of that. But with that too, he’s gotta be careful too, not to get distracted by that. Sometimes guys become seniors and they get distracted by being a leader. I mean he still needs to lead but he needs to continue on the things that he needs to get better at.

Karpman: It seemed like whenever James (Johnson) played he did a really good job and replacing Damarious (Randall) this year is going to be a challenge but would you say that he’s ready?

Ball: Yeah, it’s time for James to be a guy. He played a lot this year, he got us out of some games, played with some guys that were pretty good, he’s ready for that. You know, there will be a few mistakes because he’s inexperienced but in the same sense he’ll make a lot of plays because he’s really smart and talented, he’s ready to be that guy.

Karpman: Is that what you like most about him?

Ball: He’s so smart, so smart, he’s got a good size and he’s tough, he’s really tough. Talent wise he’s talented but if you wanted he could be faster but he thinks well on his feet which makes up for it. You know, Damarious was really fast, [but] for James it’s, can he make up for his, you know, he’s not slow but the..-

Karpman: He knows what’s happening.

Ball: He knows what’s happening, he can see it. Probably better than Damarious can. There will be a completely different type of player but I think we can win it all with him.

Karpman: Bowl Practices are a great place to see where your younger guys are at, what were your main takeaways from that as you try to develop the depth of the group?

Ball: Good, good yeah. We got a, you know, we’re really physical, we got a physical group that’s one of the things I really look for, very talented, very smart. When you get to this point and you’ve been going on your fourth year, like I said, you’ve got your guys. The guys that you want and the developing and you got the older guys and their all, everyone sits in that room all have great character, they all have great work ethic, they’re all smart, they’re all tough, and they’re all talented. Once you’ve modeled that and you’ve got that all together from your seniors to your freshmen, that’s what you strive for. I saw that in bowl practice, I thought these are the guys that are exactly what we thought they were and the two guys coming in are very similar.

Karpman: Was there anybody that surprised you, or anybody that maybe didn’t surprise you that you think will surprise people as they start to see and learn more about them?

Ball: I think DeAndre Scott, Chad Adams those two, the way Armand (Perry) played, Armand is going to be great. DeAndre Scott and Chad Adams, you’ll see some goods things out of them. Solomon Means is a guy with all kinds of ability.

Karpman: He’s physically gotten better?

Ball: Yes, he’s gotten stronger. I think those three guys will be [players]. All three of them can run really well.

Karpman: It’s interesting because DeAndre and Chad, I feel like can play different positions, is it hard to figure out where to place players, like Armand, also, who could be a free safety, corner, or nickel?

Ball: That’s sort of the way we build it, most of those guys can play corner and can play safety thats the way we look at it. We look at coverage skills because we play so much man, we take the bigger more physical guy and move him to safety and let him be the safety. But really, we play with four corners and a safety. So our Spur is a big safety and everybody else is a corner type guy. Jordan probably isn’t but Jordan is faster than what people think he is, I mean he could survive out there. James Johnson probably isn’t but he’s got good length, he’s smart, and he’s got good coverage skills. But most of the guys can play corner.

Karpman: So I should really ask about the development of Lloyd (Carrington) and Kweishi (Brown)?

Ball: When we recruited them or when Lloyd transferred, we wanted bigger guys and that’s what they are. They’re big physical corners that are good in press coverage and I’m expecting big things out of those two. They’re going to be really really good players for us.

Karpman: Kweishi’s transformation during the season was pretty significant, was it just learning everything?

Ball: Yeah, as a junior college kid it usually takes you a year, but I think we got a good half year out of him and I think we’ll get a really good year out him this year. He just needs to be more consistent but I thought towards the end of the year he was as good as anybody we were playing.

Karpman: I do want to talk about the recruits you add in really quickly because I mean gosh, especially the two corners (Stanley Norman and Kareem Orr) you add in are just ridiculously talented guys.

Ball: We wanted more speed, and so that’s what we based it on. Then the three things I look for, I should probably tell you I’ve never told you this but: speed; are they physical; and do they have ball skills? That makes me watch the tape, and character, work ethic, smart, tough, and talented will get you a nice scholarship. So they have those things.

Karpman: They check off those boxes?

Ball: Yeah, they’re fast and both of them can run, both of them can play receiver, and both of them are very physical. Then they bring those other traits to the table as well. You know if Scrappy (Norman), probably wouldn’t have got hurt it would have been a dogfight and we were in a dogfight with Kareem until the last day before signing day. It says a lot about a kid character wise to commit and stay committed. Kareem committed on his visit and then told (Ohio State coach) Urban Meyer face to face, ‘No.’

Karpman: Yeah he told me he was on their campus five times.

Ball: Then Tennessee came in late and Georgia, which is two hours away from his house, and he told them no. So that’s pretty impressive. To tell the University of Georgia, especially down there, and Ohio State no, that says a lot about the person and what type of kid he is. He’s got a chance to play as a freshman, I don’t where, it’s going to be very competitive but he’s got a chance to play.

Karpman: It just seems like you guys have your group but you want to layer in more speed on the back end overall?

Ball: We like to have speed, speed is a big emphasis now, speed, speed, speed. I’m about to sign me five guys next year, it’s going to be hard here on me. Which is fine but when I’m looking at these guys, I’m really looking at speed.

Karpman: The last question I wanted to ask was tying in into recruiting and moving forward, how much easier is it to connect with kids early now on because of the success you guys have had?

Ball: A lot easier, I’m a better recruiter now than I’ve ever been because of the resources you have but just the way kids think now these days, they are well educated and they listen to us. You know, hey this is a business decision, you wanna look at our staff and how we impact the quarterback but it’s out there it’s not like it’s something I’m making up.

Karpman: They can see [stats] graphically (via social media) and they research it and it correlates.

Ball: Right. It helps when you use those things, people, you know, you get to know each other a lot easier and better. You know we’ve got a lot of great things to sell there’s things that, you see we’re doing work here. [Reporters do a good job] getting the information out, there’s just a lot of things you can look at and the same thing too, it can hurt you. If there’s a lot of negative stuff going on that’s going to be out there too. But I think it’s really changed probably, I’d say in the last three years, dramatically, and I like it.

Like I said, right now I can get to know those guys and I don’t have to go see them in the spring. There’s enough information that I can get them to call me, and I can talk to people about them, and I can watch tape from a camp on them, you know what I’m saying? You just weren’t able to do that [in years’ past].

Karpman: Well I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing this a really long time probably 15 years talking to kids and the character quotient of this group and obviously your last group is higher then I’ve ever seen it and there’s no way that doesn’t translate to the product.

Ball: No question, and I’ll stick by that till the day I die. I would take a three star high character kid over a five star talented kid any day because character is always going to win out. It just proves you know, sure SC is very very talented but you look at the average stars of the Super Bowl, well 2.4 or something like that. Well there you go, character is a big part of that. There’s four star guys out there with high character and you’ve just gotta find them.

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