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Ball readies self for increased exposure

first_imgCHICAGO – It’s just a handful of minutes before 8 a.m., the beginning of Day 2 of the Big Ten Media Days, when Wisconsin running back Montee Ball finds the table marked with a paper-made desk plate displaying his name, position and team written on both sides.It’s one of approximately 47 other tables in the room, and over the next two hours a herd of reporters will pepper every table’s occupant with questions about football and who-knows-what-else.“Two hours of this”? Ball asks, as he looks at the table, the size of the task becoming real. “Oh, man.”The attention Ball amassed Friday – he was never short on company – is only the beginning as he enters his senior season as one of only two returning Heisman Trophy finalists in the country.Despite leading the nation with 1,923 yards and tying Barry Sanders’ record of 39 touchdowns in a season, Ball flew under the radar for much of last year. His inclusion in the Heisman presentation in New York City wasn’t even considered a sure thing before the finalists were announced.But now, with first light on the 2012 season about to crack, Ball is not only expected to compete for college football’s highest crown, but to make college football history. He’s only 18 touchdowns shy of becoming the NCAA’s career touchdown leader and in 2011, it only took him eight games to score that many.The set-up is reminiscent of the 1999 preseason, when UW’s Ron Dayne had a path carved out to take the Heisman and become the NCAA’s career rushing leader – both of which he achieved by season’s end.That means plenty of publicity and less privacy is on its way, and its something Ball has already started to get acquainted with in everyday life.“Before, [people] didn’t know who I was outside of my football gear, so they would second-guess,” Ball, who seemed relaxed and happy to talk to reporters all day, said. “But now they know immediately, and even in different cities I get waitresses at IHOP telling me, ‘What are you doing all the way down here?’Even his name itself caused a stir over the past two days, when he revealed his first named is actually pronounced “Mon-tay” rather than how it was commonly said – “Mon-tee.”“Myself and his parents had a couple different meetings,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said about the running back’s increased exposure. “When you’re up for the Heisman Trophy, that’s a big deal.”In preparation for the changes occurring around him, Ball said he’s currently reading the best-selling book “Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance,” by Super Bowl winning head coach Tony Dungy. Bielema said he gave all of his seniors a copy.But, of course, neither a book, his parents nor his coach could have taught Ball the hard lesson he learned this past May, when he became one of more than 400 people arrested at Madison’s Mifflin Street Block Party.Ball received a trespassing citation and news services like ESPN picked up the story. No alcohol was involved in his arrest, according to an Associated Press report.The incident faded from the spotlight as quickly as it arrived, but the moral of the story was clear.“You’re not able to do what other students do at the university,” Ball said. “I’m living life in a fish bowl… [but] it’s definitely worth it. It’s something, as a player, you got to deal with.”And now as a senior who hopes to be voted a team captain in the coming year, not only will Ball receive plenty of attention, but if he performs anything like the way he did a year ago he’ll continually be recognized as the face of the Badgers.The UW Ahletics Department launched its 2012 Heisman campaign for Ball this month with a promotional video titled “This Fall Belongs to Ball,” which adorns a newly constructed Facebook fan page, “MoneyBall28.”“I’m grateful for it, blessed that the university is spending money on me, basically,” Ball said humbly. “I think if I were to win the Heisman, it’s a team trophy, basically. And a conference trophy too.”Sitting at his table at the Big Ten Media Days, still with probably and hour and a half to go, one reporter remarks about how there used to be billboards in Madison counting down the yards Dayne had left during that season over 10 years ago. Then he asks Ball if he could imagine the same scenario for the touchdown record.“I mean, why not”? Ball asks with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders, amazed at the hype that surrounded Wisconsin’s last Heisman winner. “I’m not going to say no to that. But that would be crazy.”last_img

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