April 1, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- UW tailback Montee Ball carried himself like a champion over the final five games of the 2010 regular season, while helping lead the Badgers to a share of the Big Ten crown.
Today, he has less to carry - much less on his 5-foot-11 frame.
Ball weighed 213 pounds when the Badgers opened spring practice last week.
The media roster still lists him at 236 pounds.
UW strength and conditioning coordinator Ben Herbert keeps a 52-week tracking chart on all the players. On Feb. 18, 2010, Ball was 238. His weight ranged between 225 and 231 last spring.
"He's consistently been around 230," Herbert said.
When the Badgers played Northwestern on Nov. 27, Ball was down to 223 pounds; the lightest he was all season. Ball rushed 20 times for a career-high 178 yards against the Wildcats.
Was it a coincidence or not? UW coach Bret Bielema said afterward that Ball was playing at a different speed than anybody else on the field. "He's faster than he's ever looked," Bielema added.
That may bode well for a slimmed-down Ball in 2011.
"He took the approach this winter that he knew that he had some extra body fat and it all starts with nutrition," Herbert said. "If you can't control what you put in your mouth - the things that you eat and drink - you don't have a chance. He's at a point where he's as dialed in as anybody on the team."
After scoring the winning touchdown against Iowa, Ball got on an incredible roll, collecting over 100 yards rushing in each of the last five games, including 132 yards against TCU in the Rose Bowl. Ball finished the season with 996 yards, an average of 6.1 per carry, and 18 rushing touchdowns.
"He has progressively gotten better and better with the way he has approached things," Herbert said of his habits. "It's not that he has changed anything major. There have been a few modifications and he has continued to attack training. He has a spring in his step with the way he's moving."
As a true freshman, James White rushed for 1,052 yards and averaged 6.74 per carry, the second-best in school history. White was a consensus pick as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. White has been able to add some lean muscle mass to his frame this off-season and now weighs 203 pounds.
"The best thing about James is that he's such a quiet competitor," Herbert said, noting there wasn't the slightest bit of ego despite his accomplishments. "Sometimes guys can get ahead of themselves when they have success early. James is a breath of fresh air.
"He's a guy who's only gotten hungrier. He attacks the weight room. The wideouts and tailbacks train together and James and Montee are pretty much side-by-by side with everything that goes on. It's been fun to watch them together because they've been pushing each other."
Casey Dehn, a redshirt sophomore from Owatonna, Minn., underlined the depth that the Badgers have been building on the offensive line when he started at right tackle against Austin Peay for the injured Ricky Wagner. Dehn also saw some playing time in a handful of other games in 2010.
A year ago, Dehn weighed 301.
Today, he's 330.
"My man has made some significant gains," Herbert said, "and it's 30 pounds of good weight."
Herbert singled out Wagner, Travis Frederick, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler and Ryan Groy, among others, for setting higher standards in the weight room. "As a group," Herbert said, "they're as physically gifted as any group that I've seen here. The key is doing it on the football field."
Rob Havenstein, a redshirt freshman, has shed about 30 pounds according to Herbert. Along with Dallas Lewallen, another redshirt freshman, he has shown great promise in his development. Lewallen has taken reps at right guard and Havenstein at right tackle on the second team offense.
Herbert delivers the same message to every member of every position group. "Take what you've done in the weight room and apply it to the field," he said. "We're not a weight lifting team. Apply it. If you're a guy who attacks the weight room, then you'd better be attacking people on the football field."
Herbert indicated that the linebackers, as a group, have made meaningful gains during the winter. That includes starter Mike Taylor, who has bumped his weight to 229. On the defensive line, Ethan Hemer is up to 300, Pat Muldoon is around 265, while Beau Allen has dropped from 340 to 321.
Not so long ago, Herbert received an email from someone who formerly worked in strength and conditioning at the UW. A walk-on was recommended. "She asked, `Can he come in and meet you?'" Herbert related. "I said, `Sure' and he popped in one day and introduced himself.'"
You can imagine how many times Herbert will run into somebody who thinks he can play college football. "A lot of times when someone has an aspiration or a strong interest in doing something," Herbert said, "some will aggressively pursue that aspiration, some will lose a little vigor, so to speak."
Especially after finding out all the hoops that they have to jump through to get a tryout. But this prospect, Greg Russo, was different in many ways, Herbert said. For starters, he had served two tours of duty in Iraq. Secondly, he was 24-years old. Last but not least, he was very determined.
"I told him the first day, `After you meet with coach (Bret Bielema) this is how everything is going to unfold pending approval from the NCAA," Herbert recounted. "And he was as persistent as he could have been to get all the t's crossed and the i's dotted.
"You could tell he was a guy with a great work ethic and how important this opportunity was for him. One of the things you could see was how he bonded with our guys. With his experience in the military it was easy for him. He was a guy who was easy to like."
That would also apply to a more proven commodity: linebacker Chris Borland, the 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Whereas there are many questions that still have to be answered about Russo, the only uncertainty with Borland is his surgically-repaired shoulder. He will have no contact this spring.
"But he's a guy who works his tail off," Herbert said. "We can attack his lower body and his upper body in every area outside of the injured portion. We make sure we train every other aspect. He has to feel like he's preparing himself so that when he's ready to come back he's on a roll.
"He's gotten quicker, too. Wait until you see him. We've worked on agility and lateral quickness and on his first step and explosiveness. He continues to develop from a strength standpoint and strength leads to power. He's going to be a more explosive and faster linebacker."
In retrospect, Herbert has found the Rose Bowl to be a strong motivating factor for all the returning players during the winter conditioning phase. "There's no doubt that there's been a carry-over," he said. "Guys see that when you perform at a certain level what that reward is."