Lucas at Large: Ball should feel right at home in Denver Record-breaking RB grew up idolizing Terrell Davis and rooting for the Broncos
April 27, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS UWBadgers.com
MADISON, Wis. -- Within minutes after learning that he had been selected Friday by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the National Football League draft, there was Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball attempting to explain how someone raised in Wentzville, Mo., 35 miles outside of St. Louis, could grow up rooting for the Denver Broncos and Terrell Davis, and not the Rams and Marshall Faulk.
On top of the obvious geographical confusion, there was Ball's facial resemblance to Faulk, who once starred in the "Greatest Show on Turf'' for the Rams. Faulk, now an analyst on the NFL Network, was so prolific as a running back that he was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame and had his jersey number retired by St. Louis. He wore No. 28, the same number Ball wore for the Badgers.
Although Ball was raised a Broncos fan, he was a Cardinals fans in baseball - much to the chagrin of Wisconsin-bred teammates who rooted for the Brewers -- even though he had never played the sport.
"Not even T-ball,'' he said. "I only played football and basketball. I was a shooting guard and I had a pretty good 15-footer. But I didn't play my senior year so I could focus on training for football.''
Now keep in mind that Ball has tremendous respect for Faulk.
But it was Davis that was on his radar first.
Ball has recounted the storyline umpteent times.
Here's one for the road - the one that will take him to the Mile High City.
"My dad was lying down on the couch watching a game on TV,'' he recalled. "I was only 7 and I didn't know anything about football. I saw them throw penalty flags and it was like, `What does that mean?' He started explaining the game to me. I remember the next day I asked my dad if I could play.
"So I started watching the Broncos and following John Elway, Shannon Sharpe and Terrell Davis. I looked up information on Davis and you could say that I jumped on the bandwagon.''
Montee Ball Sr., never pushed his son into football. But once he sensed his interest in learning how to play the game the right way he assured him, `'We're going to keep this thing going.''
"He was my idol because he played with so much heart,'' Ball said. "He showed how much he appreciated the game with all the stuff that he went through, including battling migraine headaches.'' He was aware, too, that Davis had been a sixth-round draft choice out of Georgia and a sixth-string tailback on the depth chart when he reported to his first training camp with the Broncos.
From that humble beginning, Davis went on to play in two Super Bowls; he was the Most Valuable Player in XXXII. He was also named to the Pro Bowl three times. Davis answered to "TD.''
Ball could have answered to "TD'' - since he accounted for 83 of them during his Badger career. Now hit rewind one more time to the third week of November, 2011.
Ball had just broken the Big Ten's single-season record for TDs, previously shared by Ohio State's Pete Johnson, Indiana's Anthony Thompson and Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter.
The following Monday, Bret Bielema, then the UW coach, tried to address the challenge of trying to generate and manage the Heisman conversation for quarterback Russell Wilson and Ball.
"Both deserve equal consideration,'' Bielema said. "Obviously it kind of gravitated to Russell first. Quarterbacks when they're playing well naturally get the attention maybe a little bit quicker.
"Montee isn't a real vocal kid. He isn't a guy that's going to grab headlines for anything other than his play, and that's exactly what we want.''
Wilson was later asked the requisite Heisman follow-up question, "Who would you vote for?''
With impeccable timing, Wilson said, "He's the man - Money Ball - I guess they call him.''
Elaborating, Wilson added, "Montee's an impressive player - from practice to the film room to his work ethic in the weight room. Then, when he comes out on Saturdays, he wants to be great. That's something I always tell him right before the game starts, `Let's be great today.'"
Ball would respond, Wilson said, with a big smile, nod his head and say, "Yeah, let's do it."
After Wilson moved on to the Seattle Seahawks - and rookie stardom - Ball came back for his senior year for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that he wanted to be great. Or greater.
"I believe that I'm mentally ready (for the NFL)," he said, "but I think I need to become stronger and faster and I believe another year in the program will most definitely get me to that level.
"I do believe that I need to come back for my degree because education is most important and that will give me another year to become a better football player. I believe it's a win-win situation."
On what the NFL draft advisory board had revealed, Ball said, "They projected me for the third round. Obviously, I wasn't expecting third round.
"That factored into my decision (to return) as well. Maybe by adding some weight and getting stronger and faster, maybe I can jump into the second round ..."
Family and friends, many from the St. Louis area, cheered Friday when it became a reality.
Randy Gradishar, one of the signature players in the fabled Orange Crush Defense, had the honors of announcing Denver's pick in the second round, the 58th overall in the 2013 draft.
A former Buckeye, no less, welcoming a former Badger.
"Wow, Peyton Manning is one happy man right about now," enthused ESPN's Trey Wingo. "In this off-season, he gets Wes Welker and now ... they get Montee Ball."
Interjected Mel Kiper, "Changed his body type, went from 230 down to 210, and then he really settled in at 215. He can run, he can catch, he can block. Peyton Manning is really going to like this kid."
Wingo punctuated the selection by noting of Ball, "A yardage-eating, touchdown-making machine in Wisconsin, I'm sure Peyton Manning will find him in perfect spots to get him the ball."
Ball could not have found a more perfect spot to land, either.