UW’s Ball allowed to return to noncontact drills

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin running back Montee Ball made his first appearance on a practice field Friday since sustaining a concussion in an assault last week, although it came with one small caveat: no full contact. Not yet, anyway.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema said Ball, a Heisman Trophy candidate, won’t join teammates in full-contact drills until Aug. 20 — 12 days before Wisconsin’s Sept. 1 season opener against Northern Iowa.

Ball worked out on the field Friday in a helmet and shoulder pads. NCAA rules don’t allow a player to put on full pads until participating in a third practice, so Ball will again wear a helmet and shoulder pads Saturday, while the rest of the team moves to full pads for the first time during fall practices.

“He’s gotten the green light,” Bielema said. “I wouldn’t throw him into a game on Saturday. Next week, we’ll probably break him in, keep him in a green jersey, keep him out of contact for another week. And then two weeks out from the game we’ll hit the ground running.”

According to the Madison Police Department, Ball suffered a concussion and facial injuries Aug. 1 when five men attacked him at 2:15 a.m. in the 500 block of University Avenue while he walked home.

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.

When Ball does return to full-contact drills, he’ll be considered among the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy. Last season, Ball was a Heisman finalist when he rushed for 1,923 yards with 33 touchdowns and tied the Football Bowl Subdivision single-season record with 39 total touchdowns scored.

Ball is now the only player among last year’s Heisman finalists who will compete in the FBS this season. LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, the only other returning Heisman finalist, was dismissed from the team Friday and likely will drop down to the Football Championship Subdivision or NAIA level this season, depending on where he can immediately play.

Ball announced in January, just days after Wisconsin’s 45-38 Rose Bowl loss to Oregon, that he would return for his senior season. The announcement came after Ball received feedback from the NFL’s draft advisory board that he would be selected no higher than the third round if he left school early.

“I think he’s very excited,” Bielema said. “It’s something he had dreamed about obviously going back to a year ago when he said he was going to stay to come into his senior year and accomplish a lot of things. Not just for himself, but I think he has the team goals in mind and is really wired that way. I think for him to get back out here will juice this whole place up.”

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