There are very few events that can push sports out of the limelight in the hearts of Americans. Replacing sports might not have been one of the major goals for the terrorists that attacked the United States, but they did succeed in changing the focus of Americans.

On the campus of Mississippi State University, football takes center stage in the hearts of all Bulldog fans. The actions on September 11th, however, left their mark on one of the members of the MSU football team, and his focus off of football.

Richard's sister was killed in the World Trade Center attack on that date.

Ball, a junior transfer from Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, is listed as the second team cornerback, but has seen significant playing time in the first three games of the season. He has not missed one football activity since the tragedy.

"Richard didn't even mention to any of the coaches anything about his sister," MSU head coach Jackie Sherrill said of the quiet cornerback. "He never missed practice. He just went on like nothing ever happened. He is a very strong person."

Ball's step-sister, Keneisha Johnson, was in her car on her way to work when the first WTC building collapsed, killing her inside her vehicle. Ball said he found out when his father called him later that morning.

Ball's attitude and performance did not just fool his coaches. He was even able to sneak his situation by all of his teammates.

"I did not find out about it until Wednesday in the team meeting we had that night. He seems to have taken it pretty well," teammate and cornerback Korey Banks said of Ball. "I haven't said much to him because when that happens, there isn't much you can say. My brother is in the Navy and he has to go over there Sunday. Hopefully, it won't get down to that."

While the funeral for Johnson was held on the Sunday following the attack, September 16, Ball remained in Starkville.

Ball gives two reasons for his ability to stand strong through this entire event: his faith in God and the desire to perform in his sister's honor. "God has given me the ability to be where I am today. Without Him I wouldn't have gotten anything," Ball said of the basis of his strength. "I know that whatever happens to me God is going to take care of it. So I try not to worry about it.

Ball, a native of San Antonio, Texas, came to MSU via Fort Scott Community College in Kansas after enjoying a standout career in the Jayhawk Conference.

"It was really neat the way I ended up at State," Ball said remembering his recruitment. "When the State coaches came to our game they were recruiting Korey (Banks) and saw me too. They came to our locker room and asked me for directions, but did not realize whom I was. After they watched film, though, they came back and talked to me."

The major attribute that stuck in the coaches' minds was Ball's tremendous speed, which has not gone unnoticed by MSU's track coaches. He has been credited with running the 40-yard dash in 4.23 seconds and a 10.2 in the 100-meter. That makes him the fastest player on the team.

"My speed has really helped me in my football career," Ball said. "In high school and junior college I just relied on my speed. Since I have been here I have had to learn more technique, but my speed still helps.

"Many times I am able to sit back and wait on the receiver because I know that I can run with him. Most cornerbacks can't do that."

Ball knows that just because he is fast does not mean that he is perfect at his position. He gives credit to his teammates for making him better.

"The receivers we have here are some of the best around. Going against them in practice make me ready for the game," Ball said of his game preparations. "They (the receivers) don't go out trying to embarrass you, but when they see something that you need to work on, they tell you. That kind of stuff has made me better."

Whether he is playing football, running track or focusing on school, Richard Ball always knows where to keep his priorities.

Grant Alford is a free-lance correspondent for Gene's Page. He is a student at Mississippi State University. You can contact him by email at

Gene's Page Top Stories