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Kindred Spirits Meet At Oakland Raiders Training Camp

Casting a quick glance at Neiron Ball and Andrew Holmes, you wouldn't think the two share a lot in common.

Ball is a rookie linebacker for the Oakland Raiders going through his first NFL training camp and preparing for the team to open the preseason, and Holmes is a 10-year-old boy about to enter the fifth grade who enjoys swimming and spending time with his friends.

However, the pair are part of an incredibly small sect of the population that has been diagnosed with a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a rare condition that affects less than one percent of the population according to the Mayo Clinic.

After a strong freshman year at Florida that saw him play in 13 games, Ball was sidelined his entire sophomore campaign after suffering an AVM.

He returned healthy a year later, successfully finished up his collegiate career and then was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the fifth round (No. 161 overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft.

"To know where I've been in life, you would never think that where I'm at right now is where I would be," Ball said. "It's amazing and it feels good. I'm just thankful."

Now, 10-year-old Andrew is fighting his own, similar battle.

"Andrew was a healthy eight-year old," said his mother Angela. "We were getting ready for a baseball game on a Saturday afternoon and he had a really bad headache."

Angela and her husband Garrett took Andrew to the hospital where they received the news that would change their lives.

"Doctors said, 'I don't know how to tell you this, but your son's brain is bleeding,'" Angela said. "That is not something that you think about ever."

Andrew began undergoing treatment for his AVM, and when Angela saw a posting about Neiron's story by the Aneurism and AVM Foundation she knew the pair had to meet.

"When we first saw the story, I said, 'oh my gosh, Andrew has to meet him,' because it's so rare to have this condition, but it's even more rare for someone to do so fantastic and be a super athlete after having an AVM rupture," Angela said. "What better inspiration for Andrew to keep working hard, than somebody [that] has done it. Somebody has had the same thing, recovered and has excelled back at what they love to do."

Andrew had that opportunity Tuesday, as he and his parents attended practice at the team's Napa Valley Training Complex and also spent some time with one of his favorite players.

"I really like Neiron Ball and Andre Holmes," Andrew said. "They're good players."

In addition to taking in practice from the VIP tent, Andrew also spoke with Ball after practice, receiving his gloves as well as a football signed by the team.

"We are so honored and appreciate of the Raiders for inviting Andrew to camp and giving him the VIP experience," Angela said. "We've battled the whole time for this, so to be able to do fun things together is a nice treat."

Andrew and Neiron also posed for photos after practice, and while the rookie linebacker made the young boy's day, Ball was also moved by the time they spent together.

"It's an inspiration, honestly," Ball said. "You probably think that I'm an inspiration to him, but in all honestly, he's an inspiration to me."

He also shared words of encouragement with Andrew and his family, and stressed the importance of staying positive.

Throughout his life, Neiron Ball has faced unimaginable hardships, including battling his AVM, but he's hopeful that sharing his story with a ten-year-old boy and his family can provide them a sense of hope and optimism of better days to come.

"Not only just Andrew, every other AVM survivor," Ball said. "I hope everyone can look at my story and get something out of it, and hopefully what they can get out of it [is] just don't give up and keep working."

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