RB Ball breaks Big Ten record for Badgers

Well before Wisconsin’s season was sidetracked by back-to-back

road losses, the school had thrown its promotional weight behind a

media campaign for Russell Wilson as a Heisman Trophy

candidate.

If Wilson had a vote, though, he says he’d cast it for the

touchdown machine who lines up behind him: Running back Montee

Ball.

”I’d probably have to vote for Montee,” Wilson said this week.

”He’s my teammate. He’s the man. `Money Ball,’ I guess they call

him.”

With three touchdowns in last Saturday’s 42-13 victory at

Minnesota, Ball has scored 27 times this season. That broke the Big

Ten single-season touchdown record, previously held by Pete Johnson

(Ohio State, 1975), Anthony Thompson (Indiana, 1988) and Ki-Jana

Carter (Penn State, 1994).

Going into Saturday’s game at Illinois, Ball said the

realization that he broke the record hadn’t quite settled in yet.

At least Ball remembered to keep the ball.

”The only ball that I saved is the one when I broke the record,

and that’s about it,” Ball said. ”I gave it to my parents and

they put it in a trophy case.”

Ball said he’s most thrilled by the idea being mentioned in the

same breath as some of the star running backs who came before him

at Wisconsin.

”That’s really what I think about is being mentioned with the

ones before me is an honor,” Ball said. ”Other than that it feels

great. It’s an overwhelming feeling and I’m truly proud of myself

and the offense for doing what we do. And doing what we do

best.”

Ball was plenty good for the Badgers last season, rushing for

996 yards and 18 touchdowns while splitting carries with John Clay

and James White. Then Ball shed weight in the offseason, making him

even more of a breakaway threat.

”It means a lot,” Ball said. ”My cuts are a lot better, I’m a

lot faster and I can take a lot more carries without being

tired.”

Wide receiver Nick Toon noticed a significant difference.

”He took it upon himself to get himself in shape and lose that

weight in the offseason,” Toon said. ”That’s helped him out

tremendously. On the field he’s a lot more explosive and I think

he’s a much better player than he was last year. He has the

physical ability and the talent but I think that really was the

turning point for him and what allowed him to have so much success

this season.”

Although the school put its effort into a Heisman campaign for

Wilson, Badgers coach Bret Bielema said Wilson and Ball now deserve

equal consideration – not that it matters much after back-to-back

losses took the Badgers out of national championship

discussion.

”I think quarterbacks, naturally, when they’re playing well,

get the attention maybe a little bit quicker,” Bielema said.

”Montee, I think everybody kind of came into the season, they

thought maybe it was going to be more of a split role between him

and James. So, as he began to emerge, with the things we saw during

the fall camp, Montee had kind of separated himself. … Montee

isn’t a real vocal kid, so I think that he’s not a guy that’s going

to grab the headlines for anything other than his play. And that’s

exactly what he wants.”

Ball also has the respect of his offensive line.

”I figure since he’s had so much success that means we’ve done

our jobs,” guard Kevin Zeitler said. ”When we see film, we see

how we could have gotten him more (touchdowns), and I feel we’ve

failed him in a way. We’ve done our job for the most part, and it’s

worked out.”

Ball certainly isn’t claiming all of the credit for himself.

”It means everything,” Ball said. ”They are leaders of the

offense and they practice extremely hard. I feel like they practice

hardest of anybody. They do a great job of moving defenders out of

my way and taking me to that success.”

And while past running backs who performed well behind

Wisconsin’s mammoth offensive lines haven’t fared so well on the

next level, Ball, a junior, believes he has what it takes to play

in the NFL.

”Since I was seven years old it’s been my dream to play in the

NFL, and one day I hope I make it there,” Ball said.

Ball said he needs to work on his speed and strength for the

NFL, but doesn’t expect that to hold him back.

”I feel like I have a few areas I need to improve on, just like

every other back in the country,” Ball said. ”But (I’m just)

being confident and knowing that if I were to leave, I would work

extremely hard and would be ready for it.”

AP freelancer Tammy Madsen contributed to this report.