Bielema: Ball likely off field two more weeks

MADISON, Wis. — Montee Ball emerged from a training
room tucked inside the bowels of Camp Randall Stadium on Monday afternoon
wearing his customary No. 28 red University of Wisconsin football jersey. But
just as quickly as he appeared, Ball vanished from view into solitude.

On a day in which the Badgers began their first fall practice of the season,
Ball, the team’s marquee player and a Heisman Trophy candidate, went mostly unseen.
The star running back has yet to be cleared to practice as he recovers from a
concussion sustained when five men attacked him last week in an early-morning
incident near campus.

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said Monday after practice that Ball likely won’t
return to the field for full-contact drills for two more weeks. He does
anticipate Ball being ready in time for Wisconsin’s season opener against
Northern Iowa on Sept. 1.

“We’re taking it extremely slow,” Bielema said. “We should have
him there for all the game week preparation, which is where I think I’d have to
be to play him in that opener. It sounds like everything is going to happen
full speed ahead.”

According to the police report, witnesses said five men attacked Ball while he
was walking in the 500 block of University Avenue at 2:15 a.m. CT on Wednesday
morning. Ball, who had been socializing with friends downtown, was
“knocked to the ground and kicked” and taken to a hospital with head
injuries, the report said.

Detectives investigating Ball’s assault believe it may have stemmed from a
fight that occurred late on July 27 and into the morning of July 28. That
altercation involved Wisconsin students, including members of the football
team, according to a police statement.

Police say Ball was present, but Ball has denied any involvement in the fight.

Bielema said he met with Ball after his release from the hospital and believed
Ball’s story.

“I just assured him that he needed to sit here and tell me exactly what
happened,” Bielema said. “If I found out that there was any
indication he was involved in it, he’d be handled just like anybody else.”

Bielema cited his discipline of previous star players as an example that Ball
would be treated no differently. In 2009, Bielema suspended starting safeties
Aubrey Pleasant and Shane Carter for the season for disciplinary reasons.

“I told the team last night, ‘If anybody has an indication of what I will
or will not do, go back on my personal record when I threw our two starting
safeties off the program for some things that I felt very strongly about and
didn’t blink an eye,'” Bielema said. “I don’t have any problem saying
that.”

Though Ball hasn’t spoken publicly since the attack, he twice has taken to his
Twitter account to refute reports by the celebrity gossip and entertainment
news outlet TMZ that alleged Ball was involved in the July 27 fight.

On Aug. 3, Ball tweeted: “With success, will come many haters And
completely fabricated stories!! I will stick to what I’ve been doing since day
1”

Bielema said he didn’t have a problem with Ball defending himself on Twitter.

“You’re dealing with a young man who’s got a lot of things on his plate
that feels very strongly that he didn’t have any involvement,” Bielema
said. “I don’t think anybody should quote TMZ as a news source right now
from what I’ve seen. I do think that Montee feels very strongly he wasn’t
involved in any way, shape or form. He’s never given me an indication to think
otherwise.”

This marks the second off-the-field incident involving Ball since he announced
in January that he would return for his senior season. In May, he was arrested
for trespassing after refusing to leave the porch of an apartment during the
annual Mifflin Street Block Party. It was not an alcohol-related issue, and
Ball was fined $429.

Bielema didn’t specifically answer whether Ball’s troubles were a result of bad
luck or bad judgment.

“My guess is of all the seniors at the University of Wisconsin, there’s
been a few that have been in a bar after two o’clock,” Bielema said.
“Obviously no one draws the attention that Montee Ball draws. That’s part
of what he probably realizes now as much as he tried to realize it before. Now
it’s how much potential hate can be driven toward him in a short amount of time
by so many people. That’s a big part.”

Last season, Ball was a Heisman Trophy finalist when he rushed for 1,923 yards
with 33 touchdowns and tied the FBS single-season record with 39 total
touchdowns scored.

Bielema said he didn’t think Ball had jeopardized his standing with the Heisman
Trophy committee as he prepares for his senior season.

“I think in the end if there was proof or if there was anything that comes
out that he was involved, it absolutely, positively would,” Bielema said.
“I’m fairly confident the young man that I’ve known the last seven years
of my life is a guy that’s been pretty straightforward.”