TORONTO - This is becoming a year to remember for Marcus Ball, and for all the right reasons.
The six-foot-one, 218-pound linebacker is starting as a rookie with the Toronto Argonauts and scored his first pro touchdown last weekend in Winnipeg. Off the field, Ball is preparing to become a first-time father.
Heady stuff, indeed, considering Ball spent all of 2011 out of football, unsure whether he'd ever play again.
"I'm blessed," Ball said Tuesday. "Expecting my first born, my baby girl, right around the corner and also anticipating us to continue on with this great season and getting better every day.
"Life has been good to me.''
Ball is making the most of his opportunity with Toronto. The 25-year-old native of Norfolk, Va., who grew up in Georgia, is the team's second-leading tackler with 55 — 10 behind middle linebacker Robert McCune — and has three sacks and an interception.
Ball returned the pick 27 yards for a TD in the first quarter of Toronto's 29-10 road win over Winnipeg. The Argos (7-6) moved to within two points of first-place Montreal (8-5) in the East Division standings.
Ball had six tackles against Winnipeg and one of six turnovers (four interceptions, two fumbles) Toronto's defence forced in the contest. The Argos have recorded a league-high 36 takeaways, including 20 interceptions that leaves them tied with Edmonton for most in the CFL.
Trouble is, Ball said he and his defensive teammates don't believe they've done enough this season for a resurgent Argos squad that won six games in 2011.
"We've left so much out on the field and we know we have a ways to go to get better," he said. "If we compete at a level we know we can and everything is clicking, we can probably do some off-the-wall type of things.
"We just have to work to get there.''
And that includes Ball, who admits he's still adjusting to the nuances of Canadian football.
"I can't lie and say I've got the game wrapped up," Ball said with a chuckle. "Every week I learn something new about this game but that's the fun part about it.
"At the same time, once that ball is snapped it's football and that's what I enjoy doing.''
However, Ball's first snap on Canadian soil certainly left his head spinning when he saw slotbacks taking a running start prior to the snap of the ball.
"I'll be honest with you . . . I stopped because I thought it was offside and the play kept going," he said. "I looked around and everybody was still running and everyone looked at me like, 'What are you doing?' and I didn't know.
"It was different but like I said, I'm still learning. I'm kind of getting used to it.''
Ball said being forced to spend a full year out of football only strengthened his resolve to find a place to play. But it also made him appreciate the game more and better understand how fragile and fleeting a pro career is.
"Wherever it is I'm just going to enjoy it and take it for what it is," he said. "I love to play football, it's not about what league I'm in.
"Certain opportunities happen, others don't open up. You just have to take it for what it is. I worked for it and am just blessed to be out here playing.''
Ball played for three different schools during his college career. He started at Florida State (2006-'07) before heading to Pearl River Community College (2008) and ultimately the University of Memphis (2009-'10).
He was projected as a starter at FSU in '08 but became embroiled in an academic scandal and ultimately asked for — and received — his release before transferring to Pearl River. In 2009, he enrolled at Memphis and the following year started the squad's first eight games at safety before being suspended for two contests for violating team policy.
Ball returned for Memphis's final two games but found no pro offers following the 2010 season, a startling development for a player who was rated as one of the top linebacker prospects in the U.S. out of Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., which also produced such CFL players as B.C. Lions cornerback Byron Parker and former linebackers Anthony Cannon (Argos) and Sean Lucas (Saskatchewan Roughriders).
"I was young and it was growing up the hard way," Ball said. "I was just having too much fun and it kind of got the best of me.
"But it was a blessing in disguise. I was served my pieces of humble pie through those years and it has made me who I am now and I'm blessed by that.''