BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
If Arkansas redshirt freshman defensive tackle Cam Ball (6-5, 303) lives up to a nickname that Razorback senior safety Simeon Blair gave him upon arrival, then the future is going to be bright.
The nickname was a nod to Los Angeles Rams All Pro Aaron Donald, regarded as one of the NFL’s best defenders.
“Oh, he’s progressed a lot,” Blair said. “I remember when he first came in, I used to call him little Aaron Donald. One thing I’ve seen him really improve in is just really his fight. Just him being able to maybe go out three plays and be tired, but he’ll be able to go that fourth play, and he’s going to give it everything he’s got.
“That’s one thing that I learned playing on the field with him more just these couple of days. He’s going to give everything he has each and every play, and he’s going to get to the ball.
“So, I feel like he’s going to be a great player for years here. All he’s got to do is keep his mind focused, stay in his playbook. Like he said, he’s learning the defense. You don’t have to correct him too much on where to align and stuff like that. He’s improved all the way across the board. He’s going to be dominant.”
Ball will get a chance for extended action when Arkansas (6-6) and Kansas (6-6) meet in the 64th AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 4:30 p.m.
The former Atlanta (Ga.) Tri-Cities prep star will be seeing more snaps since fellow defense tackle Isaiah Nichols chose to enter the transfer portal instead of finish out the season.
Ball has 28 tackles this season and Nichols 16 with both playing in all 12 regular season games.
“Yeah, it was kind of unfortunate that Isaiah had left us,” Ball said. “He hasn’t been nothing but a big brother to me, and a leader, and he has taught me a lot of things since I got on campus, so I’m very grateful for him and his time with me.
“As far as…stepping up, my teammates need me more than ever now. I would say I’m up to the challenge and I’m ready to go out there and showcase my talents.”
Ball, who played in two games as a true freshman, believes his biggest improvement has been getting into and understanding the team’s defensive playbook more.
“I would say, me, personally, studying the playbook, getting inside my plays day in and day out,” Ball said. “My freshman year, I didn’t get a chance to see the field much, so I really, not really cared about plays, but I wasn’t as focused and as in-depth and to the point where I can help the young guys and even sometimes older guys with certain plays.”
Ball plans to spend more in the offseason and spring drills looking to improve his pass rush.
“To connect all of my talents together, I would say that I need to spend more time in the offseason on my pass rush,” Ball said. “I think I’ve made a point to certain cases that I can be a run stopper and be very dominant in the run game. Now I just have to transition to the pass game and the pass rushing game to make me a better player all around.”
Ball and Blair have both been around new Arkansas defensive coordinator Travis Williams, who was previously at the University of Central Florida and Auburn before that.
“I’ll say I knew Coach T-Will personally before Arkansas,” Ball said. “He was recruiting me in high school at Auburn, so we already had like a relationship established back then. Since he’s gotten on campus, we’ve just rekindled it. He’s a very good coach.”
“He’s a guy that I feel brings great energy, a great vibe to the defense,” Blair added. “I feel like he’s going to be able to help us in many ways. He’s been observing practice and stuff like that and let us know things that he feels like we can do better. I feel like he’s going to bring a great, fresh start and fit in.”
Arkansas has seen 19 players enter the transfer portal and have three others opt out of playing on the bowl while declaring for the NFL Draft.
Ball believes the Razorbacks have some hungry young players that will match Kansas’ excitement of being in its first bowl game in 14 years.
“I mean everybody is eager,” Ball said. “You know we have a lot of people who didn’t get a chance to see the field as much or even were just basically on special teams. The thing about us on the defensive side of the ball is we always remain hungry. We always want more. Whenever that opportunity comes, our coaches have gotten us prepared. So all the young guys are ready to step up and showcase our talents.”