Alan Ball was an Illinois cornerback from 2003-2006. A graduate of St. Martin DePorres High School in Detroit, Ball has been a cornerback with the Dallas Cowboys since graduation from the UI. He returned to campus to serve as an Honorary Captain for the annual Spring Game.
"It feels good to be back. I haven't been back in awhile. It's always good to come back when I get the chance. I'm happy to be here. I'm enjoying it."
For Ball, this was his first time to see all the recent structural changes in Memorial Stadium.
"Yeah, it's a new everything. I haven't seen it since I've been gone. I like it. It's definitely an improvement. I like it a lot."
Being on the Illini sideline in civilian clothes was a new experience for him as well.
"It's definitely different not being in a uniform. The last time here, I was in a uniform. But I like being here. I liked Champaign when I was here. We've had a lot of guys that came back, and I've gotten to spend some time with them. It's a good feeling."
Illinois coach Ron Zook gave Ball an opportunity to visit with the players before the game.
"Yeah, just a little bit. I gave my little two cents on how I felt about it when I was here and I did spring ball. I tried to get them going a little bit on the sidelines."
While watching the Illini in person has been impossible during the football season, he has continued to keep up as best he can.
"I love watching them on TV. It's really good to see the school with Coach Zook, he's really got the program doing well. It's good to turn on the TV on Saturdays and see the team play well."
Like all other NFL players, Ball has no idea if or when the current labor impasse will be resolved.
"Hopefully they get things worked out and everybody's happy. Whatever happens, I'm ready to get back on the field. So I hope it comes soon."
Assuming it does, Ball is optimistic the Cowboys will have a productive season.
"I think we're going in the right direction. We finished strong last year with a new coach. Everything's changed around a little bit. I'm excited to get back on the field when it's time. That's what we're shooting for."
As an Illini freshman, Ball was a tall, extremely slender cornerback. He probably weighed no more than 170 pounds on his 6'-1" frame. He has made a remarkable transformation and now is a muscular 195 pounder.
"It was just one of those things. It's just work ethic. You've just got to keep at it. I've been small all my life, so it's one of those things that's not really a matter to me. Just keep grinding and going and never stop. That's kind of what I've done."
There's no doubt Ball can serve as a positive role model for present and future Illini.
"Sometimes you've got to take the long road from the way I was when I came in. It's not how you start, it's the way you finish. That's how I look at it."