In the world of college football recruiting the Midwest is known for the corn-fed behemoths that it produces every season. However, while the days of 330-pounders roaming the gridiron are far from being gone, coaching staffs across the country have looked to reshape the position by inserting quickness, agility and skill to positions that have traditionally relied on brute strength, size and a mean streak. When colleges look at Jacob Ballard, the 6-7 255 Springboro High School standout, skill is exactly what they will find.
Jacob, more commonly known as Jake, is a versatile athlete who is projected to play one of several positions on the offensive and defensive lines. While Ballard may be found on coach Dantonio's UC recruiting wish list (defensive end/tight end), Ballard has been receiving much love, along with serious interest, from many top-tier programs including the likes of Michigan, Iowa, Boston College, Louisville, and Ohio State, who also has shown interest in Ballard's brother Josh (6-3 225). *(Michigan and Ohio State have now offered Jake)*
"It has been a fun process so far. Having my brother to go through some of the same things I am has made the entire situation a little easier to deal with," said Ballard, who is not above a little brotherly competition. "I like looking at the schools that are interested in both of us; It makes the process a little more enjoyable."
Coming from a town of around 12,000 people, Ballard has enjoyed the glitzy ride of the recruiting process thus far.
"I like the attention of it all," said Ballard. "Sometimes it gets annoying, but it is not too bad. I enjoy it, but I want to get it over with so I can focus on my senior season – but I don't want to rush my decision."
Ballard will soon see the level of attention paid to him grow after having attended the Scout.com combine in Akron (May 28). Even though he was competing against some of the premier athletes in the region, Ballard's athletic ability shined through. The teenage giant performed as well as any athlete at the talent showcase, let alone the combine's big men. Running a 4.9 in the forty-yard dash (he has run a 4.8) and showing off a 28-inch vertical leap that helped make him a one-time AAU teammate of basketball phenom O.J. Mayo, Ballard's athletic gifts have and will continue to give college coaches much to talk about.
When college coaches swarm to Springboro, the numerous abilities he displays on the football field often lead to the primary topic of discussion. What position do they plan for Ballard to lineup at in the Fall of 2006? From tight end to tackle, offense to defense, Ballard's display of abilities at several positions makes him a true football hybrid.
Listed by various recruiting publications among the top defensive-line prospects in the nation, the soon-to-be high school senior has already put on twenty pounds in order to adapt his game more suitably to the defensive tackle or end positions. Ballard's 6-7 frame that is still filling-out will make him a definite run-stopper at the next level. However, his size and athleticism make him a formidable defensive end prospect. Strong enough to handle a double team, it is the outstanding footwork displayed in Akron (4.28 in the shuttle run/7.56 in the three-cone drill) that should enable Ballard's statistical to translate well to the college game. Last season he recorded impressive numbers while playing defensive end. Ballard earned All-Ohio honors for his stellar play on defense.
However, for every coach that has sought Ballard's talents on defense, there is a scout that recognizes Ballard as someone who could potentially become a dominant player on the other side of the ball. Though Ballard himself has stated he would prefer to play defense at the next level, Ballard seems to be a natural fit along the offensive front. However, exactly where along the line he may play is up for debate.
While catching passes has been something Ballard has done as a high-school tight end, the ability to block has been showcased in the wing-T system that Springboro uses. Because of this he's considered one of Ohio's top O-line prospects.
"At first when schools told me they were thinking about moving me to the offensive tackle I was a little hesitant about making the move, but I've become okay with it," said the versatile star.
With his size and speed already known, the footwork and ability to use his hands Ballard learned playing basketball and running routes as a tight end make him a player that could certainly be molded into a very skilled offensive tackle. With such a heavy emphasis on speed on the defensive line in college, a team with a young, "pocket-friendly" quarterback must have skilled tackles to protect the corners to give him time to throw.
Even though Michigan and Iowa, two schools known for recruiting and developing excellent offensive linemen, are among a group of schools that view Ballard as a potential fixture in their blocking schemes down the road, most feel the vast amount of weight Ballard will need to gain may force him to play tight end early on.
"Schools have talked about me putting on 50 pounds to play tackle, but I don't know if I can put that on right away. I like catching balls and playing tight end, but whatever the coaches want that is what I will give them," said the selfless Ballard. "Once I get there it is up to them, there is no running away from what they want."
While Ballard appears resigned to embracing the position the school he selects chooses for him to play, his actions at the Akron combine seemed to say a lot to me. In one-on-one drills, instead of getting in the trenches with the rest of the line prospects, Ballard decided to catch passes instead. By examining his actions and his words, it appears evident that tight end is the position Ballard enjoys the most.
"I mean, I like catching balls it is a lot fun" said Ballard about playing tight end during the combine.
While the "fun" may not directly correlate to what causes Ballard to make a decision, when asked if being able to catch passes on Saturday afternoons was something that would possibly affect his decision, Ballard smirked and said, "I mean, Louisville said I could probably come in and play tight end as a freshman."
With speed to go down the sidelines and the size to go across the middle, Ballard, who caught 16 passes for 300 yards during his junior season, exhibits the toughness and athleticism the modern tight end must exhibit at the college level. In many ways he reminds me of former Virginia TE and Pittsburgh Steeler draftee (no. 30) Heather Miller (6-5 256). Exhibiting similar speed to the 2005 draft pick (Miller: 4.87 40-yard dash), Ballard's soft hands and toughness over the middle remind me very much of Miller.
However, where he plays or where he fits on the college depth-charts all seem to be secondary to Ballard right now. Going into his senior season, Ballard seems most concerned with the success of his team and making sure he enjoys his final season of high school football .
"Like I said, I just want to enjoy my senior year," said Ballard, who carries a 3.5 GPA. "We've got a good team this season with a chance at being very successful. This will be the last chance I have to play with most of my teammates and at a few of these positions so I want to enjoy the season."
Ballards's Springboro team returns 18 starters to a 10-win team from a year ago, making them a serious threat to compete for D-II supremacy when the playoffs come around.
While so little has been decided about what Ballard will do after his senior campaign, the only certainty one can expect from Ballard this season is a productive season for himself and his team. High school and College football fans alike should all take notice of Jake Ballard and expect to hear great things coming from Springboro, Ohio.
Check out our video interview at the following link. JAKE BALLARD VIDEO LINK
You can check out all the results from the Scout.com Akron Combine at this link.