The circuitous journey of Marcus Ball has taken him to football outposts near and far.
Even then, few would have predicted his latest stop likely will be in the base starting defense for the New Orleans Saints, which is why the safety immensely appreciate his latest stop as New Orleans (4-6) prepares for a "Monday Night Football" matchup against Baltimore (6-4) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Since 2007, Ball has attended three colleges – Florida State, Pearl River (Miss.) Community College and Memphis – and spent two seasons in the Canadian Football League before signing a three-year deal with the Saints in April.
"I come from a long ride, man," he said. "Three colleges, I've been at the highest of the highs, as far as Parade All-American, blue-chipper in high school, freshman starter in college at a big-time program. I've been at the highest of the highs, and the lowest of the lows.
"I've been injured, been on losing teams, winning teams, I've been everywhere in the football world. It's just a great opportunity and a blessing to fulfill my dreams and become an NFL player and be on a great team like this one. I'm just living out my dreams and trying to get the 'W' at the same time."
But he joined the Saints mainly as insurance. With Kenny Vaccaro already in the fold following a standout rookie season, Ball signed a couple of weeks after Jairus Byrd, the most coveted free agent safety on the market, was signed by New Orleans and a few days before Rafael Bush, a key member of the Saints' three-safety defensive scheme last season, rejoined the team after the Saints matched Atlanta's offer sheet to Bush.
"When I signed, the first goal was to do whatever I had to do to crack a spot on the roster," Ball said. "I was willing to do whatever and however it took to get that spot. Once I made the roster, then it was all about doing whatever it is to help the team to win.
"The ultimate goal is to go out to Arizona and throw a party (after winning the Super Bowl). Whatever it is that they ask me to do, I'll do it, no questions asked. It was a deep backfield in the beginning but that's what it's all about – competition and getting together with your guys and learning your guys."
It also is about attrition, because that's what the Saints have experienced, and that's the reason Ball will have his opportunity to start against the Ravens.
Byrd was placed on injured reserve when he tore the lateral meniscus in his knee in practice, prior to the fifth game of the season. And Bush was placed on injured reserve following the Saints' last game, a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati, due to a leg injury.
"Part of the long NFL season is attrition, sometimes to injury, and the next guys up will have to do the job," Coach Sean Payton said.
"(Ball is) smart, he's healthy. He knows and has a good grasp of what we're doing."
He's had to be a fairly quick study during the season, because much of Ball's on-field learning took place in the offseason. He missed the first four games with a hamstring injury but has started twice in the last six games in the three-safety defensive package.
"He's gotten playing time," Vaccaro said. "He's a real fiery guy, kind of like me – throw his body in there and do whatever for the team. Hearing Marcus' story, he's blessed to be in the NFL – how he grew up, where he's come from, he doesn't take anything for granted so it'll be fun playing with him.
"He's a smart guy, takes a lot of notes. We're just playing off each other."
Said Ball: "I'm pretty much there with the scheme. It's trials and tribulations – everybody isn't going to go out there and be a Pro Bowler. You have to go through the ups and downs of being a professional ball player.
"I have had my share and I'm still learning, every day I'm learning something new. It's just a matter of getting out there and getting acclimated with your guys, earning the trust from the other 10 guys on the field."
The only way to do that, Ball said, is to play. It's one thing he always has done, and done well, in each of his previous stops.
"You can't simulate the continuity or the trust you give and get from teammates in a meeting room, at dinner or hanging out," he said. "You have to go out there and play and get those reps with those guys and get some continuity and fluid relationships with those guys."
The opportunity to do so will increase Monday, as Ball tries to take advantage of the opportunity he has been presented.
"I really don't mind (starting)," he said. "(But) it doesn't matter, at the same time. It's just all about getting that 'W,' whether it's the next guy stepping up or whether it's fixing our schemes and our techniques as players. It doesn't matter who it is or what position, we expect good production and to get a win."