Ready to Throw his Weight Around

Montee Ball (Fleming/11)

Although he scored a team-high 18 touchdowns last season, Montee Ball felt slow, looked sluggish and definitely knew he was overweight for position. After a tedious summer of exercising and dieting, Wisconsin's junior running back is 20 pounds lighter and still packing a punch.

MADISON - In one of the first full-padded practices of the fall season, Montee Ball took a handoff, darted to the right, threw a shoulder into safety Dezmen Southward and kept on running.

He felt excited, he felt relieved and he felt disappointed when his head coach called the entire team together and told them to save the hitting for the season opener.

The first goal of fall camp is to stay healthy, and Bret Bielema did not want his newly chiseled 210-pound tailback sending any of his starters to the training table.

"Coach B nailed it on the head because I was trying to prove that I still had my strength from last season," Ball said. "I actually feel a lot stronger, but it wasn't smart on my part. I need to make sure I keep that physicality, but tell myself that's my teammates out there."

Every player has growing points or moments of enlightenment as their collegiate career progresses. Ball's major moments preparing for this season came in the weeks following the Rose Bowl.

There were plenty of positive experiences to latch on to last season. After not being a real factor in the team's first seven games, Ball took advantage of injuries to lead the team in rushing touchdowns, ranked second in rushing attempts and scoring, third in rushing yards and all purpose yards and fourth in total offense.

His 132 rushing yards on 22 carries (6.0 yards per carry average) made him one of the bright spots in a disappointing Rose Bowl and many remember Ball's 40-yard run on the first play from scrimmage as the game's best Wisconsin memory. For Ball, it was his worst memory.

Toward the end of last season, Ball felt his cuts was sluggish, his lower body strength was susceptible to weak tackles and his body was top heavy, causing him to topple over with a thud. All those things came together on that opening run. Ball couldn't out run the TCU safety, whose diving tackle attempt succeeded, and kept Wisconsin from scoring a touchdown on the drive.

"It hurt, it did hurt, because I could have taken that run farther," said Ball, who estimates he lost upwards of 60 yards in the Rose Bowl because of weak tackles. "It was a good thing to learn from a draw motivation from."

Ball used that tape as inspiration for what was a rigid winter of eating and conditioning. For nearly four weeks, Ball would go on a three mile run before every practice and after workouts. When he got home, his meal consisted of a baked potato with cottage cheese in it. Far from gourmet, but extremely effective considering he weighed 209 pounds at the start of spring.

"Montee has lost some weight that I think was excess baggage," Bielema said. "The muscle, the power, all the strength numbers are up … Montee looks shifty, reads and reacts a little quicker to what he is seeing in front of him and I think he wants to prove to everybody that he still has that power. He's even stronger than he was a year ago."

When Ball first tried his new weight out, he noticed that his cuts were crisper, his speed was accelerated and he was able to push himself longer and harder. Just like the confidence boost he got when he scored the game winning touchdown against Iowa in a relief effort, Ball got the same confidence boost when his shoulder sent Southward to the turf, a realization that he was in control of his body.

"I embraced it because I knew the outcome would be worth it," Ball said. "I just battled through it and feel a lot better. I feel more decisive and that I am making better decisions."

After running for 996 yards and 18 touchdowns as an overweight ball carrier last season, Ball has understandably pushed his envelop and his expectations for this season. The important achievement he wants to fulfill is getting back to a BCS bowl game, and not letting himself get tripped up again.

"We all have our personal goals, which is me wanting to run for more yards and score more touchdowns, but I want to get some wins on the charts," Ball said. "We want to keep this team moving forward."

That starts 13 days from today, a day Ball has circled on his calendar because he knows he won't get any gaff from his head coach for knocking any unsuspecting defenders to the Camp Randall turf.

"Nobody has any idea how anxious I am to get out there and prove a lot to these fans and to myself that I am a lot better than I was," ball said. "I've worked extremely hard for myself to get myself to where I am at."

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