Nasir Ball runs fast.
But the Phillipsburg senior wide receiver, cornerback and kick returner runs fast differently in his multiple roles he takes for the Stateliners -- roles that may well cause Cranford major headaches as the Cougars prepare to visit Phillipsburg (8-1) for a NJSIAA North 2 Group 4 semifinal Friday night (7) at Maloney Stadium.
Indeed, Ball showed off a new role in last week’s 49-7 win over North Hunterdon in a N2G4 quarterfinal when he scored on a 18-yard reverse on the top-seeded Stateliners’ first play from scrimmage.
“It was a pretty cool experience to score like that,” Ball said. “We worked on that play a lot in practice. Coach saw that that was the right time to call that play. I am not sure we will run it again.”
Neither is Cranford (6-3), the No. 5 seed in N2G4, which is the beauty of the unusual play. It just adds another way Ball can strike fear into defenders.
“Nasir can make an explosive play happen at any time, and you saw that on that reverse,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said.
Ball said his football past came in handy on the reverse.
“I played running back in youth football and I loved it, but I am a little small to do that now,” said the 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior.
Still, Ball has not forgotten how to run like a back.
“On a play like a reverse you have to follow your blockers and be a little patient,” he said. “When you’re playing wide receiver you make a move and you go, and when you’re returning kicks you try to get upfield and brace for the hit.”
Ball’s role as cornerback involves more running, often backwards, while keeping track of receivers. He does that well, too.
“Nasir is such a solid corner,” Duffy said. “There a lot of ways he can make big plays for us.”
Ball didn’t make any big plays for the Stateliners for a stretch of the season when a lower-body injury knocked him out of the Union game (perhaps not coincidentally Phillipsburg’s only loss) and the next week against Bridgewater-Raritan as well.
“The coaches took it slowly and built me back up after the injury,” Ball said. “It took longer than a while for me to come back all the way. Actually I have just started feeling 100 percent.”
That’s good news for Stateliner fans as they enter the toughest, and most anticipated, time of the season, a time Ball said the team is ready for.
“I think the team chemistry is why we’re doing so well,” Ball said. “I think we have really come together well as a team and that helps every Friday night.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.