Dave Ball and Chip Kelly have kept in touch since 2006, when both left New Hampshire -- Ball, a record-breaking wide receiver, and Kelly, then the offensive coordinator. Ball would not have been surprised if in 2006, he was told that they would be reunited in the NFL almost a decade later.
"WIth what we were able to do...we built something there, and those ties and those bonds don't get broken very easily," Ball said Monday. "Do I think he would have thought of me? Yeah. Did I think it was going to be a reality if I hit 30. No. But I'm in shape. And I keep myself in shape. And I haven't burned any bridges and I have contacts because I've bounced around."
The Eagles signed Ball on Saturday even though Ball had been out of football for the past year. He taught physical education in his hometown in Vermont while also coaching high school football, and serving as a sports performance trainer. But he's 29, has experience in two different NFL organizations, and most importantly, is familiar with Kelly. With Kelly's play-calling at New Hampshire, Ball broke Jerry Rice's division I-AA touchdown record.
Ball said Kelly's offense is "not cookie-cutter" and "changes every year," so his playbook with the Eagles is different than at UNH.
"Terminology's different," Ball said. "The tempo is the same, and I think that's what does it."
When Kelly was hired in January, Ball thought he would not be able to stomach it if Kelly called and he wasn't ready. So he stayed prepared.
He was on an annual family vacation in Maine when Kelly called. Before Ball left, he had a feeling he'd get a call during the vacation. Sure enough, he was flying out of Bangor airport on Saturday morning.
Ball said his inability to stick with the Jets and the Bears was more about numbers than talent. But he knows what Kelly's looking for -- and not just the skill set, but also the characteristics. He read an article in the newspaper about Kelly in which Kelly was quoted as saying "the best ability is durability." Ball laughed, because he specifically remembers Kelly saying that at UNH. And that's not the only one.
"Little things have come out as I've seen him in transition from period to period in practice, more mannerisms than anything," Ball said. "But a few times in meetings, I've heard some concepts that he's clearly lived by, that have stuck with him from New Hampshire that he's still using and people are buying into. And not buying into because it sounds good. They're buying in because they believe it. Because that's how he portrays it. He believes in his system, he believes in being a player's coach, and I think he has a lot of people around here who understand the stakes, but are comfortable and excited to be a part of it."
Ball said Kelly's been too busy to catch up, but he's hoping for some time during Tuesday's off day to sit down with his old college assistant coach who is now his NFL head coach.
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Contact Zach Berman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.