UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: By any name, Ball is center of attention


CHICAGO -- Resplendent in a purple shirt, purple vest and purple bow tie, Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball wasn't necessarily trying to make a fashion statement here Thursday at the Big Ten football media assembly; nor was he showing his solidarity for Northwestern with his color selection and coordination.

It just looked that way, much to his dismay.

"No matter which color I picked, it was going to be somebody else's,'' he said.

Originally he was planning on going with a scarlet shirt. But he decided that matching scarlet with his grey suit -- Ohio State colors -- would have constituted more of a wardrobe malfunction. So he went with the purple and the bow tie, a personal first.

"I looked at it (a bow tie) and I said, 'Why not try it?''' he explained.

That might also be the best explanation for his name change.

Ball would prefer to be Mon-TAY instead of Mon-TEE.

"That's the actual pronunciation of my name,'' he pointed out.

Ball revealed his preference prior to last year's Heisman Trophy ceremonies in New York City.

But he backed off it then, and he didn't make a big deal out of it.

As far as he's concerned, it still isn't a big deal.

"I guess some reporters asked how I wanted to be called and I was thinking to myself since that's my actual name, let's go with Mon-TAY,'' he said.

None of his teammates have gotten into the habit yet of calling him Mon-TAY.

"But my girlfriend calls me Mon-TAY and now so do all of her friends,'' Ball said.

What does his mom call him?

"Junior,'' he said.

That eliminates any potential for some household confusion since he was named after his dad, Montee, Sr. That aside, there's no issue with calling him a Heisman finalist since he was one last season. Plus, he also ranks as one of one this season's Heisman frontrunners, since he's the leading returning vote-getter.

ESPN's Desmond Howard, who won the 1991 Heisman at Michigan, fielded some questions on Ball here Thursday. What's the best advice he could give to Ball going into his senior year?

"Take it game by game and don't pay attention to the hype,'' Howard said. "I think the best thing for Montee is that he went through it last year, so he kind of understands what the hype is all about.''

Howard has a high regard for Ball's make-up.

"His mentality is what has made him who he is today -- just the fact that he lost the weight and came back in better shape because he wanted to be the best he could be,'' he said. "That's what starts to separate good and great players, the mentality; not just the physical attributes but where you are mentally.''

During the morning media session, Ball got the chance to do a radio interview with another former Heisman winner, Ohio State's Eddie George, who won the award in 1995. "That was neat, that was shocking,'' Ball said. "Just looking at him and listening to him, I was thinking about all the things that he's done. It was incredible to be around him.''

Ball has tried to keep his own Heisman candidacy in perspective.

"It feels great being one of the leading candidates for the Heisman,'' he said. "But I'm just really looking forward to having another great season with the team because without the team's success I'm not going to be there (in the Heisman running).

"So I just have to make sure we practice hard and play hard and win our games so I can get my own personal goals; but most importantly we can win another Big Ten championship.''

Is there more pressure given the Heisman expectations?

"Actually, no,'' said Ball who paused and admitted, "Yeah to be honest there's a little bit (of pressure). But it's nothing that I'm too worried about because I know what I'm capable of doing if I stay healthy.

"I know I have the right mindset to go out there and practice as hard as I can and play as hard as I can. That's the only things that I can control.''

Ball estimated that about 50 percent of the questions that he received during the television interviews Thursday were about the pronunciation of his first name; the other 50 percent were about his decision to return for his senior year at Wisconsin.

"I was taught to never regret my decisions,'' he said. "I still support the decision that I made and I'm really grateful and happy that I came back because I'm enjoying myself. This is my last year in college football and I'm going to make sure that I have a really great year.''