ATLANTA — It could have been worse.
At least that’s what Alabama defensive lineman Dakota Ball says, looking down at what used to be his left index finger. Ball, a senior, shot his finger off during the winter break while target shooting in the woods with kicker Adam Griffith.
“I shot her clean off, man,” Ball said. “That 12-gauge shotgun, pew. I didn’t do it on purpose, though.”
Ball is in good spirits and is even willing to joke about the accident. Speaking to several media members Thursday inside the Georgia Dome during the Peach Bowl media day, he spent more time discussing his missing finger than he did No. 1 Alabama’s matchup against No. 4 Washington on Saturday.
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One of the most common questions, how do you shoot off your finger with a shotgun?
“Alright, this is what happened,” Ball explained, repositioning himself in his chair to replicate the incident. “I’m riding on a four-wheeler, so I have to keep my shotgun in my lap. So, I tie a rope around the stock and around the barrel. So when I was getting on the four-wheeler after I was shooting targets out in the woods, there was a little rope loop and I was putting it over the barrel. I had two hands over there, and it just went off. Just doof and it blew it off.”
Ball plays it cool now, but during the moment things were more hectic. Griffith said the incident occurred during late-night target shooting on his family’s 95-acres of land in Calhoun, Ga. Driving through the woods on four-wheelers, the kicker remembers hearing a loud boom before the chaos broke out.
“I think I was more freaked out than he was,” Griffith said. “It was dark, and when it happened I thought he just shot a tree or something. I turned around, and he started yelling and saying he shot his finger off.”
The images described were not for the faint of heart.
“I just shook my hand, and it was just hanging on by a piece of skin,” Ball said. “I was like, ‘OK, this is not good.’ ”
Thinking fast, Griffith gave Ball a towel to wrap his hand and stop the bleeding before driving him back to the house and then the hospital. Griffith was also in charge of breaking the news to Alabama head trainer Jeff Allen as well as Ball’s family, who were already on their way to the house for a bonfire.
Despite the situation, the calmest person involved might have been Ball. In a state of shock, the defensive lineman said he didn’t start really feeling the pain until his adrenaline started to wear off at the hospital.
“He knew the finger was going to be gone, but he’s a tough guy,” Griffith said. “At first, he didn’t know what he was going to do, he thought that football was going to be over. But after a couple of days he realized it’s just one finger, it could have been his whole hand.”
Ball said doctors had to cut the bone out, “two inches down” during surgery. The standard procedure typically calls for patients to remain in the hospital for up to a week. However, the hard-nosed defensive lineman checked out the following day.
“He’s tough,” Griffith said. “He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve met, so I knew he was going to come through it. Losing a finger’s not going to stop him.”
While he hasn’t returned to practice, Ball rejoined his team on schedule after the break, much to the surprise of his fellow teammates. Earlier this month, Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans referred to Ball as “tough as hell” stating he couldn’t believe the defensive lineman returned so soon after the accident. Of course, Ball did not escape the incident without a little jabbing from some of his friends
“Yeah, some people give me a hard time about it. You know, the inconsiderate people,” Ball said turning to some of his teammates with an accusing smile. “I’m just kidding, but yes, they’ve given me some crap.”
For the most part, Ball said he has received plenty of support after the accident. Typically, people come up to him with tales of friends or relatives that were also involved in hunting accidents. Ball said he even received a cautionary tale from Alabama head coach Nick Saban on Wednesday.
Saban, who grew up in West Virginia, said the first day of deer season was practically a holiday in his hometown, as everyone was too busy hunting to go to school. Not much of a hunter himself, Saban explained how one incident shied him away from guns at a young age.
“There was a guy, I was in eighth or ninth grade, and he was the best athlete in the school. He was the quarterback and a good basketball player, and he actually shot his leg off in a similar kind of hunting accident,” Saban recalled. “He was never able to play again.
“... My dad always kind of used that as an example of how careful you have to be and how important safety is when you do something like that.”
Ball will not play in the Peach Bowl on Saturday at 2 p.m. against Washington, and it’s unclear if he will be able to return in time for the national championship game on Jan. 9 if Alabama beats the Huskies.
However, after seeing the toughness he’s shown already, his teammates are certainly not ruling him out.
“I knew he was going to be back,” Griffith said. “He’s probably going to be practicing next week. If we win this game, he’ll probably be back out there.”