MADISON, Wis. — What’s in a name? When it comes to Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, one is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Apparently, the other is not.
Ball revealed following Saturday’s victory against Minnesota that he is fine once again with being called Mon-TEE rather than Mon-TAY.
“The coaches have been calling me Mon-TEE now,” Ball said. “They said, ‘Mon-TAY is done with. We don’t want to see him anymore and it’s back to Mon-TEE.’ I’m just going with it now.”
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Last season as a junior, Ball — then known as Mon-TEE — led the country with 1,923 rushing yards and tied the single-season FBS record with 39 total touchdowns. He later told reporters during the offseason that his first name had been mispronounced for three years at Wisconsin — it was actually Mon-TAY and not Mon-TEE, as everybody suspected.
But the first month of his senior season with a new name did not go as planned. In early August, he was assaulted and suffered a concussion that kept him out of full contact drills during fall camp. When he returned, he was well off the Heisman finalist pace he established a year ago and quickly dropped off the national radar.
Coaches decided to take a stand.
Badgers coach Bret Bielema was asked about the name change during his weekly Monday press conference.
“I didn’t want to go public with that one,” Bielema said. “I was riding back on the plane from Purdue (last week), and a couple of my coaches told me that everybody on the sideline was saying, ‘Hey, Mon-TAY’s gone, but Mon-TEE’s back. …
Perhaps they’re on to something. Over his last two games against Purdue and Minnesota, Ball has rushed for 413 yards and five touchdowns. He has scored 10 touchdowns in four Big Ten games, and he once again is in the Heisman discussion. This season, he has rushed for 982 yards and 13 touchdowns through eight games.
Through eight games last season, Ball had 853 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“You really see him starting to get some of those signature broken tackles that you’ve seen him do where he sidesteps a guy or runs through a guy,” Bielema said. “He popped a guy pretty good on Saturday where he lowered his shoulder. You could see some of that nastiness come back.”
Given the way Ball has run in recent weeks, he could become a Heisman Trophy finalist for a second straight season if he maintains that pace over the next month. Bielema certainly agrees with that premise.
“I know he’s having a Heisman performance because of what I’ve seen and the way I’ve been around him everyday,” Bielema said. “Sometimes for the outside world to realize what’s going on is hard for certain people to see. But it’s definitely there.”