"It looks like with these guys quitting, coach Gilbertson actually talked to me and said that there'd be a good chance that I'd be on (scholarship) for fall," Ballew said after Tuesday's practice.
"He didn't promise me anything. The numbers have got to fall my way."
One who did make promises, according to Ballew, at least on a conditional basis, was Neuheisel.
"Fortunately Coach Neuheisel promised me a scholarship if the numbers are there for the fall," said the tailback from Texas. "Worst case scenario was that there would be one in the winter. Then he left and coach Gilbertson said that he is going to honor coach Neuheisel's promise.
"Coach Gilbertson felt just as strongly about it as Neuheisel. I was lucky to get Gilbertson as head coach, someone who felt the same way about my situation."
All the talk of a scholarship hasn't come without countless hours in the weight room and an ability to shine on the practice field. Moved from safety, where he played exclusively last season, to tailback this fall, Ballew has showcased his versatility.
While leaving the glitz and jaw-dropping physical abilities to the other contending tailbacks – those already on scholarship – Ballew goes about it in workman-like fashion. He grinds up yardage, he knows when to cut, he catches the ball out of the backfield.
And more often than not, he takes advantage of every opportunity he's given.
"With the scholarship guys, the job is more or less theirs to lose," said Ballew. "I definitely have to do the extra yard for a while to get noticed. I've got to go above and beyond what the scholarship guys do in order to earn my stripes and get a look.
"A lot of guys go three or four years and never get a chance, but I've been lucky enough to get some looks. I'm still in the process of working my way up the totem pole."
Another way he's been able to do just that, working his way up, is by appearing on special teams. In the first week of camp, he's gotten reps at punt returner and kick returner and appeared on the coverage teams on both punts and kickoffs.
A year ago, this was hardly the case. Ballew was a wildcard of sorts out of Westlake High in Austin, Tex., where he racked up mind-boggling numbers as a tailback. His decision to come to a Northwest school was somewhat a mystery. And as quickly as his name surfaced, it faded, as he missed the duration of fall practice with a hamstring injury.
Now injury free, he hopes this is the first of many successful seasons with the Purple and Gold.
His goals for '03?
‘I'd like to excel on special teams first of all, but if the opportunity arises I'd like to be the man at runningback and really help the team out and be a guy that the team can rely on," said Ballew. "I think I can do that as long as I work hard enough.
"My ultimate goal is to be the man, to be the runningback."