NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dave Ball remembers his darkest day like it was yesterday, just like he remembers O.J. Murdock's beaming smile.
It came at the start of his fifth training camp with the Titans, when then head coach Mike Munchak delivered some devastating news during a team meeting.
Murdock, a wide receiver with the team, had committed suicide while back home in Tampa, Fla. The news hit close to home for Ball, who lost two friends to suicide while in high school.
"I couldn't deal with it any more,'' Ball said. "After that meeting we broke into defensive meetings and I started to have a crazy emotional breakdown. I was crying during the meeting. And when we went to walk-through I couldn't take it. I told Munchak I needed help, that I was struggling. I was stressing out. I told him I couldn't deal with it any more. I was so stressed out."
Titans Online looks back at the NFL career of former Titans DE Dave Ball. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
Ball, a defensive end, had dealt with anxiety issues in the past, long before he arrived with the Titans. The panic attacks dated back to when he played at UCLA. But Murdock's passing hit him hard.
"I knew him, but I didn't know him real well. We'd talked a few times,'' Ball said. "But his smile was amazing. Google his picture and you'll see his smile. He was a presence in the locker room, which was awesome.
"Because I had the history of one of my best friends committing suicide in high school, and I had the history of anxiety, it was hard for me to deal with. I needed help."
Ball said Munchak helped point him in the right direction.
Now, he wants to help others.
Ball, who played in 51 games for the Titans from 2008-2011, is promoting The Coach Forum, which will be held July 21 at Vanderbilt's Student Life Center.
Ball partnered with Scott Hearon of the Nashville Coaching Coalition in an attempt to help coaches and athletic directors lead healthy programs and mentor their players more effectively by giving high school and college coaches an opportunity to learn from highly respected coaches, former athletes, doctors and sports professionals from around the country.
The speakers will include a mix of former Olympians, sports medicine and sports performance experts and coaches. Christ Presbyterian Academy football coach Ingle Martin, a former Titan, and former Vanderbilt basketball star Shan Foster are involved.
Ball said topics will include character growth for players and mental health in athletes, among other things. Those interested in the event should go to www.thecoachforum.com. The cost is $45. Ball said organizers are trying to draw as many high school and college coaches as possible.
"This event, I am super passionate about it because of what I have seen and what I have been through,'' Ball said. "I know the people at this event are amazing people who can help transform whoever is in the audience at the time. … This event could help so many people."
Ball admits he still struggles with anxiety today.
Like so many players, Ball admits had a tough time dealing with the transition away from the NFL after his playing career ended. Ball had a solid career with the Titans following several shorter stints in the NFL. He tallied 11 sacks in his final two seasons combined, 2010-11. Ball spent the entire 2012 season on Injured Reserve after a concussion during training camp.
Ball decided to openly talk about his issues with anxiety – in addition to Titans Online he also did interviews with The Tennessean, TitansInsider.com and 104.5 F.M.'s 3HL – in an attempt to help others, and to help promote the event.
Ball hopes The Coach Forum will help coaches recognize off-field struggles with athletes so they can do a better job.
"I had dealt with continuous extreme fear and extreme panic, and then after I got my concussion it was extreme fear, big-time depression and fear,'' Ball said. "2012 was a super dark year in my life. A very dark year. There was a lot of depression, a lot of rage, and a lot of anxiety."
Ball, who's 35, said he's in a better place now. He wants to make an impact on others.
"I am honestly still trying to deal with the ramifications of post-NFL life, which is really stressful at times and really hard at times,'' Ball admits. "You go from having like 60 friends a day to having your wife and kids you hang out with, so it's really hard. I would say probably a year or two later it started to change. I went back to school and got a new direction in my life, so it started to change.
"Yeah, I would say I am in a better place now. I go to counseling, I am on meds. I meditate. I try to take care of myself. But some days it is still a struggle, and it sucks really bad. And I know I am not the only person who has to deal with it. It would be a great feeling for to me to know that this event helped other people."