Ball Climbs the Freshman Wall

Coming to Wisconsin as the most decorated running back in the state of Missouri's history, true freshman running back Montee Ball has had to adjust to better competition, bigger players and colder waters in order to contribute to the Wisconsin offense.

MADISON – It's hard to miss the big yellow tubs outside the McClain Center that are usually occupied by two big offensive lineman after each Wisconsin practice.

Filled to the brim with cold water, members of the Wisconsin athletic training staff fill each tub with three bags of ice, daring only those brave enough to immerse there body in the tubs, water that feels like sitting in the arctic, for eight to 10 minutes to relax the body.

A standout player in high school, Montee Ball scoffed at the treatment, as the 5-foot-11, 225-pound running back was hardly touched during his senior year of high school. In less than three weeks of camp, Ball has made the chilly waters a daily and required ritual for his psyche.

"Every day, that's where you can find me," Ball said with a smile. "It's a must now compared to high school where everyone really wasn't that tough. Everybody is much more physical now."

Life was easy for Ball at Wentzville (Mo.) High, as he left as one of the state's most decorated athletes. A first-team all-state, all-metro, all-district and all-conference selection as a senior, Ball holds the school district rushing records with career totals of 995 carries, 8,222 yards, 107 touchdowns and an average of 8.26 yards per carry, a big reason he was named the Class 5A Player of the Year by the Missouri Football Coaches Association last year.

Now, Ball is one of many horses in Wisconsin's stable and is going against defensive players that have over 50 pounds of weight on him. Even more grinding is that Ball has gone through 20 practices in less than three weeks without so much as a day off, something he never experienced in high school.

"I am getting a little bit fatigued, but I have to fight through it and get my body right," said Ball, who scored 41 touchdowns his senior year. "I was at a wall, but Coach Bielema talked to us and gave us some motivation. I am going to push through it and keep my head up."

Drawing on past experiences, Head Coach Bret Bielema told the freshman a story last week of how he had a best friend growing up, but they drifted apart when Bielema went off to college. As tough as it was, Bielema explained how he stayed focus on playing college football, something Ball took the heart.

"We are all going through that right now," Ball said. "We miss our sweethearts and stuff like that, but everything is a big step up from my school. From learning the plays to talking to the media, you have to stay focused and you have to want to do this or you won't make it."

Although the practices continue to get harder and more challenging for Ball, the hardest thing the true freshman runner has had to endure is the mental grind, being at practice everyday, all day and having to do more the next day. When times have become trying over the past three weeks, Ball has sought out the advice of Zach Brown, John Clay and Erik Smith, a trio of runners that have helped Ball get over the wall.

"They talk to me everyday in meetings and they tell me to forget about the practice and just keep going," Ball said. "Come in tomorrow and get ready to work, and I take that to heart. I listen to them a lot and learn from them a lot."

One of the main things that has helped Ball survive so far is the similarities between Wisconsin's offense and the zone offense Ball ran at Wentzville. Helping him fight through the fatigue, Ball thinks back to the success he had in high school to get him through, and a little coaxing from Bielema.

After Ball fumbled in a practice late last week, Bielema immediately removed Ball from the lineup, forced him to do up-downs, with the ball in his right arm, while Bielema stood next to him and tried to rip the ball free.

Now that he knows how important ball security is, Ball is looking to find his niche in a talented backfield, hoping to be a key contributor in 2009.

"I just want to be the back that can do it all," Ball said. "I want to be the guy that can run off the tackles, catch the ball, run the screens and break it to the outside. I am just taking my time."


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