The Springboro, Ohio, product has matched a career high with 13 receptions this season but Ballard knows where he can best help the team – as an extra blocker in the run game.
"I knew I would be a big part of the offense as far as the running game," Ballard said. "I've expected that the past three years. I've been at the point of attack many times."
Ballard rotated with then-senior Rory Nicol at tight end last season and has assumed the starting role this year. His blocking skills helped him earn the weekly Parker award a team-high three times. That helped him earn a share of the year-end award with senior lineman Jim Cordle, who won the weekly honor twice.
"I was surprised I won (the weekly honor) as many times as I have," Ballard said. "I'm pretty excited about it. I'm really happy with the award."
He was not caught off guard by winning the end-of-season honor, however.
"I thought I might win it," Ballard said. "I didn't know if I would, though. We have great offensive linemen in Jimmy, Justin Boren and J.B. (Shugarts) really stepped it up this year at right tackle. I definitely couldn't have won it without all of the O-linemen getting their jobs done. It helped me perform my job."
Ballard was named OSU's top lineman for the Illinois, New Mexico State and Penn State games. His best performance was arguably Sept. 26 against the Fighting Illini. Ohio State rushed for 236 years in a 30-0 rout at Ohio Stadium, and Ballard played a key role. The most effective rushing play Ohio State used was an inside zone run in which Ballard lined up on a wing and at the start of the play broke down inside to lead the running back through the hole – much like a fullback would in a traditional isolation play.
Ballard's worth was also found in that he never left the starting lineup on a line that saw only center Michael Brewster and right guard Bryant Browning start all 12 games. Three different Buckeyes made starts at left tackle (Andy Miller, Mike Adams and Cordle) and three made starts at right tackle (Cordle, Shugarts and Marcus Hall). Even Boren missed one game, sitting out the New Mexico State game in place of Andrew Moses.
The 6-6, 256-pound tight end has had some ups and downs in his blocking this fall but earned the praise of offensive line coach Jim Bollman as one of the reasons the line improved as the season progressed.
"If he would be struggling it would be a lot more difficult," Bollman said. "When he can handle things, neutralize things at the point of attack, it gives us a pretty good chance."
Ballard said the mental aspect of blocking is where he has made the biggest improvement.
"I probably know what everyone's doing on every play, more now than I did before," Ballard said. "I might not know all of the center's calls, but I can tell you what the tight ends, tackles and even the running back are doing. I think knowing the game better really helped me this year."
Ballard said he may even rib some of the lineman about winning their unit's year-end award, especially Boren. The junior guard earned all-conference honors but only won the weekly Parker award once.
"I'll probably say something to Justin, but he's first-team All-Big Ten," Ballard said. "He takes the Jim Parker very seriously. He would get upset if he didn't win it. He's very competitive and a great player."