UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: While Ball and White fly high, Lewis content under the radar

FB_110901_Lewis_Jeffrey.jpgUW tailback Montee Ball snickered. After all, you don't ask someone who has lost as much weight as Ball -- over 20 pounds since the Rose Bowl -- if he's "hungry'' to start the 2011 season.

That surely qualified as a loaded question, if not a loaded baked potato (which Ball regularly feasted on during his dieting; a potato loaded, by the way, with cottage cheese).

"Very hungry,'' Ball responded anyway.

Rightly so. The 210-pound Ball is anxious to see if his big loss will turn into big gains Thursday night against UNLV at Camp Randall Stadium.

"I really want to see how I feel at this weight in a game,'' he said. "We had a couple of scrimmages, but I didn't get many reps. I'm pretty confident about it. We'll see how it goes.''

There's obviously less of him to see than last season when he rushed for 996 yards and 18 touchdowns. Ball finished strong by collecting over 100 yards in each of the final five games.

"Man, Montee looks totally different,'' said UW tailback Jeff Lewis. "He looks like one of those LA Weight Loss commercials. You can see in his face that he has lost all that weight.

"You can also see that by the way he plays. He's a lot faster and more powerful. People are going to be surprised and they will love it -- the new Montee.''

UW tailback James White, the Big Ten's reigning Freshman of the Year, also looks different physically. "James has gotten a lot faster and stronger,'' Lewis observed.

Only San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore had a higher rushing average per game among freshmen running backs last season than White (87.7).

The Badgers have a proven one-two punch in Ball and White. Befitting their stature, they've received plenty of media attention; only quarterback Russell Wilson has been able to overshadow them.

Last season, Ball and White shared interview requests and carries with John Clay. With his departure, freshman Melvin Gordon has been drawing considerable interest in training camp.

Rightly so, Lewis said. "Melvin keeps everyone on their toes,'' he added.  "I like when he comes out in practice and pushes me. He keeps pushing me to get better every day.''

Whereas Gordon has been on everyone's radar screen, Lewis is still the Stealth in this rotation.

"A lot of people don't know about me,'' said Lewis, a redshirt freshman from Brookfield Central (Joe Thomas' old high school proving grounds). "I don't mind being that X-factor.''

So far, Lewis has shown that he has more speed than luck. He's among the fastest players on the team -- if not the fastest -- when healthy. Last spring he played with a cast to protect a busted thumb.

As training camp was winding down, Lewis collided with a DB and went down hard in the middle of the field. He came up holding his left wrist; the same wrist that he had broken three years ago.

"At the time, I really didn't know how serious it was,'' he said. "My whole arm locked up and when the trainers came out I started praying and hoping that everything would be all right.''

UW coach Bret Bielema found Lewis sitting outside of his office last week and when he approached him, Lewis pulled off the cast and flexed his hand to prove that he was ready to go.

That was prior to getting medical clearance. Eventually, he did get the good news. There was no fracture. "Oh, man, it was like heaven because I thought for sure I would need surgery,'' Lewis said.

How can Lewis complement Ball and White?

"I can bring that change of speed,'' Lewis said.

The Badgers would like to utilize their running backs as receivers. Lewis feels pretty good about that dimension in his game, too.

"Especially now that I've got two free hands,'' he said of being cast-free.

Does he see himself as an underdog in the shadows of Ball, White and Gordon?

"A little bit,'' he said. "But everybody has something to prove.''

A couple of days ago, Lewis had a dream.

"I dreamed about coming out of the tunnel (at Camp Randall),'' he said excitedly, "and I dreamed about running plays in the game (against UNLV). Man, I can't wait.

In your game program, Jeff Lewis is No. 22, the Stealth.