If you were to ask a Georgia Tech fan who played the most games at quarterback in school history you might get a lot of different answers, but the correct one is Reggie Ball. From his first day on campus, Ball was the starting quarterback for the Jackets and he held that role all four years at Tech leading the Jackets to a 28-20 record during that span and six wins over top 25 teams including a win over #3 Miami in the old Orange Bowl in 2005.
Ball will be the first to admit, his actual stats were not going to blow anyone away with 57 career touchdown passes and 55 interceptions, but he considered himself a gunslinger in the late-90s/early 00s NFL-vein like a Brett Favre or Vinny Testaverde who cared less about their own stats and more about wins and losses.
He followed in the footsteps of Joe Hamilton’s historic run at QB and two years of George Godsey’s terrific run only separated by one year of A.J. Suggs at quarterback in 2002.
Chan Gailey was in his second season at Tech and he turned to Ball to run his NFL-style offense. Ball became the first true freshman quarterback to ever start a season opener and the first to be a full-time starter for an entire season as Ball was quick to point out.
“If you are going to tell it, make sure you get it right, Stu Rogers did start as a true freshman, but not the first game,” Ball quipped.
That first start happened in Provo, Utah against BYU and the Jackets’ lost 24-13, but then upset #17 Auburn in week two in the home opener. For Ball, it was a crazy time.
“I was 18-years-old, it was a whirlwind man,” Ball said of the start of his freshman season. “My voice (at BYU) like I was so nervous, terrified, and second-guessing myself in certain situations in the game that my cadence wasn’t even loud enough for my O-line to hear it and the BYU stadium was not loud. Man, I didn’t know shit in hindsight. It took a lot of guts to throw me in there like that.”
The Auburn game was a mixed blessing for Ball because his team led by a very strong defense raised expectations quickly for the young quarterback. Also, it offered a chance for Ball to settle the score after the Tigers ghosted him leading to his commitment to Georgia Tech as both schools had been trying to pluck him from Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain.
“I think the Auburn game was a double-edged sword for me because it did a lot of damage. I fed off a lot of emotions that game because I was waiting on Terry Price (then-Auburn assistant coach) to call me one more time and I was going to Auburn. My school had ties on our coaching staff to Auburn and we had just showed out at a 7-on-7 when those first started at Auburn. There was a lot leading up to it. I was offended when it didn’t happen and I put a lot of emotion into that game. The thing that separated us from Auburn in that game was big plays. Right off the rip, I hit Nate (Curry) for a 54-yard gain and that set the tone for the game.”
The emotions from that game fueled what Ball calls an unhealthy emotional edge to his play that took away from his quarterback play.
“I got to ride out of the stadium on the crowd wave and that just encouraged me to use more emotions and less brains,” he said. “Come to find out you have to have a balance. I could’ve learned a lot more and learned the Xs and Os and intricacies of playing the game better. My idol growing up was Brett Favre.”
Inceptions and the 55 he threw as a Jacket really are not something he looks back on.
“People think I give a damn about throwing 18 interceptions in a season, but I didn’t give a damn. I gave a damn about the wins,” Ball said. “I think against NC State I threw two pick-sixes and still won the damn games. That’s all I care about. I’m not a stats guy, I’d rather win the game. I got guys like Cam Newton who comes to my gym and he tells me that I was an inspiration for him and influenced him. So when you meet guys like that and they have respect for you that matters too.”
While Ball led the Jackets to many big wins, the one that stands out the most to him is his sophomore season start against #20 Clemson on ABC that was the moment people learned who Calvin Johnson was.
For Ball, it was a little bigger because he had met a young man named Carter Martin who seven-years-old was dying of Ewing’s Sarcoma a type of bone cancer spent time with Ball and he knew he was watching. Ball led the Jackets a pair of touchdowns with under three minutes left to erase a 24-14 deficit and win on Calvin’s famous catch.
“I had a little fan named Carter who had a terminal medical condition and he had come out and played catch with me. I didn’t really want to at first, but I was like let me go do this for them and I met the family and played catch and all that and we talked and all that. He always would write to me and long story short, he was very sick that night. Late in the fourth quarter, his dad tried to get him to go to sleep and we were down 10 late. So he convinced his dad to stay up and watched the ending and I don’t think he ever woke up again.”
Winning that game for young Carter stuck with Ball to this day and was the biggest highlight of his career.
“I’m not close to the family and I don’t talk much to them anymore, but we reconnected over a story about it a few years ago and the love, influence, respect, and inspiration you can give people is special,” he said. “That Clemson game is a fond memory and that’s the one I always mention.”
There is only one regret for Ball when he looks back on his career, he was 0-4 against UGA.
“My only regret is not beating that mediocre fucking team from Athens,” he said.
Ball was close, he lost his final game 15-12 in Athens, the year before was a 14-7 loss in Atlanta, and his sophomore contest was a 19-13 loss. Combing his final three games against UGA, Tech was outscored by just 16 total points. That is something that still bothers Ball when he looks back on his career.
“That plays into what I mentioned about being too on the emotional side and not the intellectual side. Calming down and taking your time and taking everything play by play and not making anything too big,” Ball said. “I wasn’t the most disciplined person in the world and starting from day one, people let you get away with a lot of shit. Either way, I needed to be better at appreciating the moment and being more strategic a better person and athlete.”
One example he gave of that lack of focus or calmness came in his first season when the Jackets’ handed then Duke interim head coach Ted Roof his first career win with a 41-17 loss in Durham. Ball said that is a true lowlight of his time at Tech.
“Everything can take you down, I damn sure hated to be the first to lose to Duke in like 37 ACC games my freshman year,” Ball said. “Man I was pissed after that game, no disrespect to Duke, but no one wants to break that streak for any team in any situation. However, my greatest regret is not beating the mediocre team from Athens.”
Ball has been busy since hanging up his cleats after stints in the NFL and Indoor Football League. He refocused his life and helps run E.F.F.E.C.T Fitness down in the Lakewood area with over 3,500 members and virtual classes as well with 4,000 people a session at times. He says he has one piece of advice he gives all athletes that he comes in contact with.
“Be honest as an athlete, be honest with yourself. Are you that guy? Are you that guy in four years is getting drafted in the first round, if not get your ass ready for another career,” Ball said. “That’s not saying quit or don’t give you all in the weight room or for your team, but be realistic. Athletes ended up out of the game and they don’t know what to do and they end up bagging groceries at Walmart and that is borderline depressing. It makes me hate how wrapped up athletes get on making it. It is almost like an easy cycle to fall into because all you do is football, sleep, and books and maybe some type of social life. If you didn’t have Nick Saban driving over to your house and 25 offers, bro you better have another career ready.”
Ball is another former player who has resurfaced since Geoff Collins took over at Tech. He said he didn’t always feel welcome in the past back to the Flats, but has always supported the program. Having guys like his former teammate Tashard Choice on staff has made it easier for him to be a part of Tech football again.
“When you see familiar faces it makes you want to support and come out and it makes you feel more comfortable and at home,” Ball said. “They are doing a helluva job recruiting, but the buzz around the program for me is that I know Collins, I know Nate Burton, I know Tashard, I know (Will) Glove(r), so the buzz is I’m familiar with them so I’m interested in them. I’m interested in who they pick and I think Collins bringing a lot of the old faces back or familiar faces back has been a huge boost for all of us who support the Tech program. Some of us wanted to support the program but didn’t know how to. I was like tell me what you need me to do and who I need to talk to so I can help. I’ve even given away some money from my damn company!”
No one has started more games as a Georgia Tech quarterback than Reggie Ball and it may be a long time before anyone eclipses that 49-game start mark he set. if someone does, Ball will be the first one there to congratulate them too because that is the type of guy he is.