I had the chance to talk with Wisconsin legend Montee Ball. Ball can be considered one of the greatest running backs in the history of Wisconsin sports, especially for the University of Wisconsin. He ran the table up to and into the NFL. Montee spent some time and chatted with me about his college career and we reflected on his legendary Wisconsin days.
His Early Days
Montee Ball was born December 5th, 1990. At the age of two, he moved with his family from McPherson, Kansas to Wentzville, Missouri. At the age of eight, he starting playing football for the O’Fallon Bandits. As a kid, his coaches told him he was too big to be a ball carrier so he started his career on the offensive line. Growing up with Terrell Davis as his idol, he made the switch to running back. Montee Ball became a two sport athlete in the eighth grade, when he joined the basketball team. He attended Timberland High School, where he was a force on the field and court. Ball was the recipient of several awards and holds many records from his time in high school:
- First Team All-District and All-Conference- Sophomore year
- Player Of The Year- Junior Year
- First Team All-State, All-Metro, All-District, and All-Conference-Junior and Senior year
- Voted Team Captain- Sophomore, Junior, and Senior year
- Most Carries (995)
- Most Rushing Yards (8,222)
- Touchdowns (107)
- All-Academic- Sophomore, Junior, Senior
- 2x Letterwinner in basketball- Sophomore and Junior year
Montee had offers from a handful of colleges. Northwestern, Mizzou, Wisconsin, Iowa, Stanford, Iowa State, Indiana, and Kansas. He chose Wisconsin for several reasons. It was a mixture of the education, style of football, and culture. He had to say about his visit:
“The moment I had my official visit at UW, I knew exactly where I wanted to go. Coming from a somewhat small town to 90k people all bleeding red … it was an easy decision”
2009 came along and Montee started his college career sitting behind John Clay. It was a quiet year for Ball, as he did not get much playing time. The Badgers finished the year 10-3 (5-3 vs Big Ten). Montee showed flashes though, finishing with 98 rushes, 391 yards and four touchdowns.
When the 2010 season got underway, Ball was not only backing up Clay, but he also was a back up for freshman James White as well. Although the Badgers were having a great season, things weren’t going well for Ball. It was October 16th and Wisconsin had just upset No. 1 ranked Ohio St. Montee recalled the moment saying:
“…I didn’t step on the field one time. After that game I actually wanted to switch to linebacker because I grew up playing a lot of linebacker..”
It was a conversation with his father after the game that removed the doubt from his mind. The next week versus Iowa, Ball got his chance.
During the game, John Clay and James White both went down with injury. This opened the door for Montee Ball. He wouldn’t let the opportunity pass by. Ball finished with eight total touches for 59 yards, including a team high five receptions. With 1:06 left in the game, Ball ran for an eight yard touchdown that won the game for the Badgers.
After that game, Ball went on to start the rest of the games that season. The Badgers finished 11-1, and received the honor of playing in the Rose Bowl against TCU. The Badgers were down 21-13 in the fourth quarter, when Montee Ball scored his first ever Rose Bowl touchdown. Unfortunately, they were unable to complete the two-point conversation. They lost 21-19.
Ball finished the season with a stat line of 163 rushes for 996 yards and 18 touchdowns. Although the season did not end the way he hoped, there was a lot to build off of going into 2011.
2011 season started and the Badgers were feeling great. Coming off of a tough loss in the Rose Bowl, the team received a transfer quarterback by the name of Russell Wilson.
Ball said of the Rose Bowl loss from the year before:
“That one stings thing most out of all the Rose Bowls. We should have won that one. But I believe it fueled us the following year.”
And that it did. The Badgers started off hot, winning their first five games with a point differential of 301:58. Russell Wilson and Montee Ball were the best running back/quarterback combo in the nation.
Unfortunately, it was not all good for the duo and for the Badgers. They suffered two heart-breaking losses in back-to-back games against Michigan State and Ohio State. Ball said about those losses:
“We were most definitely the better team. Playing both games away was very tough. Two great teams too. And we fell short because of two simple passes. But it’s okay. We got our revenge on Michigan State”
Although the Badgers won the rest of their games, they were out of the National Championship conversation after their two losses. However, after winning the rematch against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game, they were headed back to the Rose Bowl.
Montee Ball was a focal point for the offense in the game, getting 164 yards and one touchdown on 32 carries. Wisconsin was up 38-35 entering the fourth quarter, but gave away the lead and lost 45-38.
Ball finished his junior year with 1,923 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns. He added 306 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions, and even threw a touchdown to Russell Wilson.
After foregoing the NFL Draft, Ball returned for his senior season. With Wilson in the NFL now, expectations weren’t as high for the Badgers as the year prior. The Badgers ended up going 8-6 (4-4 Big Ten) and ultimately had a disappointing season. Although they lost five games in the regular season, they were still invited back to the Rose Bowl for the third straight year.
Head Coach Bret Bielema stepped down three days after the regular season ended, and took a head coaching position with Arkansas. Athletic Director Barry Alvarez took over to coach the Rose Bowl.
The Badgers took on Stanford in what was Ball’s final game of his college career. In the second quarter, Ball scored on an 11-yard rush, putting Wisconsin on the board. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be enough as the Badgers went on to lose 20-14.
Montee Ball finished his senior year with 1,830 yards rushing and 22 rushing touchdowns.
Wrapping Up College Career and Awards/Records
Montee finished his college career with 5,140 rushing yards and 77 touchdowns. He added 598 yards receiving and six receiving touchdowns. Ball holds many records and won many awards. Those include:
- Most touchdowns in a season (39, 2011).
- Consecutive games with 2+ touchdowns (13, 2011).
- Most points scored by a non-kicker (236, 2011).
- Heisman finalist (2011)
- 2x All-American (2011-2012).
- 2x Ameche-Dayne Running Back Of The Year (2011-2012)
- First player in NCAA history with a touchdown in the Rose Bowl in three straight games.
- Doak Walker Award for nations best running back (2012).
- Most touchdowns in NCAA history (83).
Montee Ball added something to Wisconsin football that made them a must watch every week. The Badgers could very well have been the best team in the country in 2011, if it weren’t for a few fluky plays. Ball had this to say to wrap up his collegiate career:
“..We dominated the Big Ten, three Big Ten titles, arguably had one of the best games ever (Big Ten Championship versus Michigan St.), and made a bunch of memories for the fans..“
Montee Ball gave his heart for the Badgers, Madison, and the state of Wisconsin. He should go down as the greatest Badgers running back of all-time.