Thursday, June 27, 2013

Montee Ball wins Big Ten Network's Most Dominating Performance of the Year Award

By Adam Rittenberg

June 27, 2013

Football didn't have as big a presence as other sports during Wednesday's BTN awards, but one coach and one former player were recognized for their efforts last season.

Penn State's Bill O'Brien was named Men's Team Coach of the Year after guiding the Lions to an 8-4 mark in his first season, including wins in eight of the final 10 contests. O'Brien, who led Penn State through a tumultuous offseason that included severe NCAA sanctions, was both the media's and coaches' pick for Big Ten Coach of the Year and also claimed several national coaching awards.

Former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball earned Most Dominating Performance of the Year after rushing for a career-high 247 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries in a dominating win against Purdue. Ball set the Big Ten career touchdowns record in the game, breaking the mark set by former Badgers star Ron Dayne.

There were several other nominees from the Big Ten football ranks, including Ohio State's 12-0 team and Nebraska fan Jack Hoffman, the 7-year-old brain cancer patient who captured national attention with his touchdown run during the Huskers' spring game. Ohio State football lost out to Indiana soccer for Men's Team of the Year, while BTN went with another inspiring story for Most Courageous Performance, that of Purdue women's basketball player Drey Mingo, who survived a bout with bacterial meningitis and also battled back from an ACL tear.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Yanda will be honored with weight room name

June 19, 2013

By Sara Millhouse

Anamosa will honor its Super Bowl son, Marshal Yanda, by giving his name to the high school weight room.

It’s a fitting honor for a high school football player whose hard work and dedication in the weight room, among other places, helped him become a top-level pro athlete.

A ceremony honoring Yanda will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 23 in the Anamosa High School gym.

Yanda’s wife Shannon is a 2000 graduate of Western Dubuque. Shannon’s parents Dennis and Sallie Hunt live in Epworth.

Yanda, a University of Iowa graduate, will be greeted by his Hawkeye coach, Kirk Ferentz, at the naming ceremony.

Yanda could be considered a late bloomer: he was an all-conference selection and team captain of the Anamosa High School football team but was far from being the top national athlete he would become. He spent his first two years of college at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City.

From there, he went on to two stellar seasons at Iowa and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2007. An offensive lineman, he has been selected twice for the Pro Bowl and earned a Super Bowl ring earlier this year.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Montee Ball named Wisconsin Athlete of the Year

Athlete of the Year Awards

June 14, 2013


MADISON - Wisconsin Athletics named Montee Ball (Football) and Cassandra Darrah (Softball) as their Male and Female athletes of the year for the 2012-2013 seasons.

Both players were vital in their teams’ success, both bringing Big Ten conference championships back to Madison.

Darrah led the softball program to their first ever Big Ten tournament title and an appearance in the NCAA tournament – the teams’ first since 2005. In the Big Ten tournament Darrah had a 3-0 record and was named tournament MVP.

Ball won the 2012 Doak Walker award and was named the Big Ten’s running back of the year. He led the Badgers to a third straight Rose Bowl appearance. This past April he was drafted by the Denver Broncos.

With this honor the two athletes are nominated for the Big Ten Conference’s top athlete award. Ball, eligible for the Jesse Owens Athlete of the Year Award would join Ron Dayne as the only other Badgers to bring home this honor. Darrah, competing for the Suzy Favor Hamilton Female Athlete of the Year award would join Cathy Branta (1985, Cross Country, Track and Field) Kathy Butler (1997, Track and Field) and Suzy Favor Hamilton (1988,1989,1990 Track and Field and Cross Country) as Badgers to win the award.

Montee Ball, Cassandra Darrah named Wisconsin Athletes of the Year

By Mike Fiammetta

June 15, 2013

Wisconsin has a deep well of athletic talent, but its athletic department pegged the football and softball standouts as the Male and Female Athletes of the Year. Now, Ball and Darrah will enter the pool of candidates for the Big Ten's top athlete honors.

Among the pool of candidates selected as finalists for Wisconsin's Athletes of the Year honors, Montee Ball and Cassandra Darrah were arguably the two most accomplished.

Friday afternoon, the university announced the former running back and right-handed softball ace were the winners of the male and female athlete awards, respectively.

Ball finished his senior season as the 2012 Doak Walker Award winner after finishing with 1,830 rushing yards, third-most in the country. He also finished his career as Wisconsin's all-time leader in touchdowns with 83, and was named a consensus first-team All-American. Drafted by the Denver Broncos with the 58th overall pick in June's NFL Draft, Ball signed his rookie contract on Thursday and could very well be the starting running back there.

Darrah, meanwhile, led Wisconsin's softball program to its first-ever Big Ten tournament title, earning MVP honors as she pitched all 21 innings of the three games and notched a 1.67 ERA. Her contributions culminated in the Badgers' first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005. In finishing 27-7, her .791 winning percentage was a single-season UW record.

Ball and Darrah will now be considered for the Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year and the Suzy Favor. The former was established in 1982 with the latter coming a year later. Wisconsin's only winner was former running back Ron Dayne in 2000, after he rushed for 2,034 yards and 20 touchdowns en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.

The Suzy Favor award has faced a murky future of late after Favor was revealed in December to have lived a double life as an escort. Favor, a three-time Olympian, won 23 conference titles with the Badgers and graduated from UW in 1991.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ginn wowing Newton, Panthers with speed

June 13, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ted Ginn Jr. has never liked being labeled a "specialist" and is looking to take advantage of a "fresh start" with the Carolina Panthers and prove to critics he can still play wide receiver in the NFL and be more than just a returner.

Tired of being labeled a "specialist," Ted Ginn Jr. is hoping to prove to the Panthers and the NFL "that I can still play receiver."

Ginn, the ninth overall pick in the 2007 draft, left the San Francisco 49ers this offseason as a free agent after what he called a "tough season." Although the 49ers reached the Super Bowl, Ginn was pretty much a non-factor in the passing game, catching only two passes.

"I want to show the world that I can still play receiver," Ginn said. "I got kind of bashed over the years, being labeled a specialist."

During his first three seasons in the league with the Miami Dolphins, Ginn averaged 43 receptions and was used frequently as a ball carrier on reverses, as well as on special teams as a kickoff and punt returner.

But it wasn't enough production for the Dolphins, who traded Ginn to the 49ers for a fifth-round draft pick after three seasons.

Over the last three seasons in San Francisco, Ginn's playing time in the offense dwindled. He caught 31 passes in his first two seasons in the Bay Area before disappearing almost completely in 2012. This past year he fumbled four times, losing three, which didn't help matters.

But he still can't pinpoint why he never really got much of a shot on offense.

"You kind of get caught up in the politics a little bit, that side of the game," Ginn said. "You just have to roll with the punches and keep your name clean and your name right.

He's eager for a fresh start.

"I want to get back on track," Ginn said. "Last year was a tough season. We went to the Super Bowl. But individually, I didn't feel like I got the proper reps I was supposed to."

Ginn has impressed the Panthers so far in OTAs and minicamp and has coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton singing his praises.

During Tuesday's practice Ginn turned heads when he raced down the sidelines, beat his defender and hauled in a perfectly thrown ball from Newton in stride for a touchdown. His offensive teammates roared with approval.

"Ted has been a spark," Newton said. "Everyone knows he's fast. I found that out the hard way."

Newton points to a practice where Ginn outran one of his throws and had to slow down to try to make the catch.

"He kind of embarrassed me so I told him, 'Ted, from now on you will never outrun my football,' " Newton said with a laugh. "So if y'all see a pass and it's overthrown and No. 19 is the intended receiver, just know that it's pride more than anything with him. He will not outrun my football."

The Panthers are still practicing in shorts, so there's only so much you can tell about the players.

But Rivera said he's been impressed with Ginn's speed.

"That's part of the reason he's here, obviously. We know that with his speed he can blow the lid off, and he's showing it," Rivera said. "But it also helps on quick underneath routes because with his speed, he gets the ball, sticks his leg in the ground, makes a cut and goes vertical. A 5-yard pass can turn into a 25-yard gain before you know it."

Where Ginn might fit in the offense remains a mystery.

Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell are locked in as the starters, while the team signed Domenik Hixon from the New York Giants to compete with Ginn and others for the No. 3 receiver spot.

"Coming to Carolina, we have a great squad and a great team here," Ginn said. "I'm just trying to come out and show them my talent and provide what I can provide on special teams, as well as at receiver."

Football APR should be in good hands with Bielema

June 11, 2013

By Robbie Neiswanger

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football was the program that came closest to the Academic Progress Rate benchmark of 930 after netting a four-year score of 938 in data released by the NCAA on Tuesday.

It also logged a single-year score of 924 for the 2011-12 academic year.

But Arkansas senior associate athletic director Jon Fagg said the Razorbacks don’t expect significant issues with the program moving forward.

The reason? He pointed to coach Bret Bielema’s academic success at Wisconsin as an indication the Razorbacks should perform in the classroom under his guidance.

Wisconsin’s football team received a public recognition award from the NCAA after posting a four-year APR score of 985 (2008-09 to 2011-12 academic years). The Badgers posted scores of 975, 967, 968 and 953 in four previous years.

Fagg said Bielema’s success with Wisconsin’s APR was a factor in his hiring.

“I knew from my perspective, and I don’t want to speak for (athletic director) Jeff (Long), but from my perspective, it was a real component,” Fagg said.

“When you look at Bret’s athletic success, that was really clear. There were three things that got me when I was looking at it. His athletic success. His lack of off-the-field problems. I mean if you go back and look at the time that Bret was coach at Wisconsin, he had virtually no arrests. Literally, virtually none. And then his APR success. To me, that says that’s an unbelievable coach as a teacher and a mentor and that’s certainly what he seems to be proving so far with us.”

Arkansas football’s multi-year score of 938 ranks 13th among Southeastern Conference programs. Only Tennessee (924) was lower. Programs that finish below 930 are subject to penalties like scholarship losses or postseason bans.

The Razorbacks’ score next spring will include a fall semester with coach John L. Smith in charge of the program and a spring semester under Bielema. The coaching change also coincided with the departure of a large group of outgoing players like Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, Alvin Bailey, Chris Gragg and Cobi Hamilton.

Those two factors became a recipe for disaster for the basketball program in 2007-08, when it posted a 755 single-year score. But Fagg credited the outgoing staff for continuing to emphasize academics in a difficult year. He also said the football program’s large squad size helps offset departures in football better than basketball.

Now under Bielema’s watch, Fagg said the football program’s grade point average in the spring was one of its best as well.

“Bret has really come in and made a renewed, a different, commitment to academic performance,” Fagg said. “They genuinely talk about it all the time. …

“I watch him talk to them about the need to take care of business off the field to ensure they can take care of business on the field. Lots of coaches around the country talk about translating their discipline from the field to the classroom. Bret talks about it in some manner opposite. Translate your discipline from the classroom and off the field to the field. And they really go hand in hand for him.”

Monday, June 10, 2013

OSU roots run deep for Iowa’s John Lowdermilk

June 7, 2013

By Scott Dochterman

IOWA CITY — John Lowdermilk’s first on-field experience with the Iowa Hawkeyes was not a positive moment for Coach Kirk Ferentz.

Lowdermilk, Iowa’s co-first-team strong safety entering fall camp, grew up in Kensington, Ohio as the son of former Buckeyes center Kirk Lowdermilk. In 2009 he was dressed in scarlet-and-gray at Ohio Stadium when Ohio State beat Iowa 27-24 to claim the Big Ten title in a winner-take-all game. Two years later, he joined the opposite side.

“That was Vandy’s (Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg) first start,” Lowdermilk recalled this spring. “I was actually there rooting for Ohio State against Iowa in a game that went into overtime. I actually rushed the field and everything. It’s weird how things work out.”

This year Lowdermilk gets his only opportunity to play at the renowned “Horseshoe” in Columbus. The Hawkeyes travel to Ohio State on Oct. 19 (2:30 p.m. ABC) in the teams’ only scheduled meeting until at least 2016.

“It’s going to be weird because growing up I was an Ohio State fan and went to a lot of Ohio State games throughout,” said Lowdermilk, a junior. “It definitely will be pretty cool. I’ll have a lot of family there watching. It will be a weird feeling.”

Lowdermilk (6-foot-2, 203 pounds) is listed alongside fellow junior Nico Law at strong safety after spring drills. Lowdermilk played in 11 games last year for Iowa and registered six tackles. He backed up Tanner Miller at free safety and played on a majority of Iowa’s special teams. He likes the move to strong safety.

“I’m definitely getting a better feel of it,” Lowdermilk said. “The game’s slowing down, and I like the physical part of it. You’re a little closer to the line of scrimmage, not as much in pass coverage as the free. I probably like that a little bit more.”

Lowdermilk doesn’t look to his father for advice on playing his position, however. Kirk Lowdermilk played 12 seasons in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts. He started every game in his last six seasons, 150 overall. He retired after the 1996 season.

“We talk about it, but he doesn’t really know much about defensive backs,” John Lowdermilk said with a laugh. “He thinks that if you cover a guy, you did a good job. So he talks more about just working hard and spending extra time in the film room and things like that.”

That is advice John Lowdermilk embraces every day. He’s also learning from defensive coordinator Phil Parker, who regained control over the secondary this offseason.

Parker had coached defensive backs from 1999 through 2011 before relinquishing those duties last year. Parker now coaches the secondary and uses video to break down the errors from both last season and this spring. Lowdermilk said he’s picked up a great deal from Parker.

“In spring ball during install we’ll go like how that mistake was made and in cover-2 get your shoulders turned and things like that,” Lowdermilk said. “Just so you don’t make the same mistake twice.

“We really struggled on the back end of the Michigan game. I’d say you’d have to remember it a little bit. You just can’t repeat it and make the same mistakes. We definitely remember it.”

A typical response from a player with a scarlet-and-gray pedigree to remember a bad performance against Michigan. He’ll get his chance to prove himself against both the Wolverines (Nov. 23) — and his heritage — this fall.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Dawson Doing his Homework as 49ers Kicker

Former Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson will be kicking for the 49ers in 2013. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

By Doug Williams

June 4, 2013

Phil Dawson wants to leave nothing to chance.

When he lines up in November or December for a crucial, late-game field goal attempt, he wants to know everything he can possibly know about the conditions at Candlestick Park. Which is why he’s been on the 49ers’ home field several times this offseason to kick field goals from every part of the field.

Dawson, the 14-year veteran signed to a one-year deal this offseason to replace David Akers – who had a shaky 2012 season after a terrific year in 2011 – likes to do his homework.

“The more I can knock that out now, the better it’s going to be when game time comes,” said Dawson of his work at the ‘Stick. He wants to know what the turf feels like, what the wind conditions will be and what the kicking background will look like. After kicking in Cleveland for 14 seasons, San Francisco is his new office.

“Candlestick’s a uniquely shaped stadium,” Dawson told Taylor Price of “There’s not a whole lot behind the goal post to aim at, so I was trying to figure out if there’s a scoreboard or a certain flag pole I could aim at back there. Things like that are helpful, and then just being there, getting used to the sounds, the smells, the overall feel of it all. The more you can be in there, the more prepared I feel.”

Last season, Dawson was almost automatic, making 29 of 31 attempts. His 84 percent success rate on field goals (305 of 365) ranks ninth all-time in the NFL. Since 2011, he’s also made 14 of 15 field-goal attempts from 50 yards or beyond.

While other 49ers moves in free agency and the draft have drawn bigger headlines this offseason, the acquisition of Dawson could be one of the most important made by the team. In the NFC West, where competition figures to be keen against the Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals, it’s possible the division title or a playoff spot could come down to just one or two field goal tries. In Cleveland, he made 15 game-winning field goals.

Dawson wants to make certain he leaves nothing to chance when he goes out to try to make those kicks, which is why he’s kicked at Candlestick several times since signing with the team in March.

Also, during the organized team activities (OTAs) that are now in their third week, Dawson is kicking at goal posts that are 50 percent narrower than normal NFL uprights. It’s something he’s used to from working with 49ers special teams coach Brad Seely, who used to be with Dawson in Cleveland.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Dawson told Price. “It helps you zero in on a specific target rather than try to kick it somewhere between the posts. It’s definitely a challenge, but definitely fun.”

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Montee Ball Running Away With Denver Broncos RB Job?

June 3, 2013

By Sayre Bedinger

In 2011, Willis McGahee was really an unsung hero among Tebow-Mania in Denver. After signing a pretty modest free agent deal, the former Ravens running back was quietly a Pro Bowl player for the Denver Broncos on their way to an 8-8 season and a first place finish in the AFC West.

In 2012, McGahee’s injuries held him to just 10 games, and backup Knowshon Moreno also suffered an injury toward the end of last season. Needless to say, the Broncos did not feel settled about the running back position heading into the 2013 offseason.

That’s why they spent a second round draft choice on Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, who was one of the most prolific running backs in college football history. As a junior in 2011, Ball pretty much dominated anyone and everyone who stood in his path, to the tune of 33 rushing touchdowns, six receiving touchdowns, and he even threw a touchdown pass to Russell Wilson, now the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen had a pretty loud endorsement for who might be the Broncos’ featured back in 2013, and you better believe McGahee heard it, wherever he is.

“It is absolutely the rookie Montee Ball from Wisconsin,” said Mortensen, “He gets ‘it.’ He’s got ‘it.’ In other words, he’s dedicated, he’s a pro, and he’s got talent. … Montee Ball, watch out.”

As for Peyton Manning, he’s not overly impressed by McGahee’s absence at voluntary OTAs, but he believes the former Miami Hurricanes star can still help the team.

“The players that aren’t here — there are individual and specific situations. Whether there is a business decision being made on Willis’ part on his side or on the Broncos’ side, that is kind of to be determined. I’ll say this: Willis was a great help to me last year,” Manning said. “When he got hurt last year, that was a blow to our team. We really kind of replaced him by committee. Knowshon and crew really did a good job of stepping up, but there’s no question Willis was a big help to me last year and our team. But, like I said, we’ll see how these next few weeks and how it plays out here.”

So what does Manning say about the rookie?

“I have taken Montee after practice each day and just kind of going through plays, going through games, getting him comfortable hearing audibles at the line of scrimmage,” Manning told reporters in Denver. “We are going to count on him in a big way this year. He’s a rookie, but Coach (John) Fox is not going to bring him along slowly. We are going to put him in there and make him a contributor this year. So, the more repetitions we can get out here talking football, talking scenarios, I think the more comfortable he’ll be once the regular season gets here.”

It sounds more like Manning is preparing Ball for a playoff game than running through the playbook at OTAs. He is putting Ball through the full gauntlet, and according to all the sources we have around Denver, Ball is turning heads in the best way possible–on and off the field.

Personally, and this is just my own opinion, but I think Willis McGahee and the Broncos probably came to some sort of agreement that they would let him go when the market for free agents heats up again, and McGahee is simply not going to risk another potential injury at OTAs. It could just be business as usual for McGahee, who has skipped voluntary OTAs before, but you never know.

The ideal scenario would be for the Broncos to keep all their backs in-house and get McGahee healthy. Regardless of what it looks like for fantasy football fanatics, the Broncos’ best four running backs right now are Montee Ball, Willis McGahee, Ronnie Hillman, and Knowshon Moreno. If you go by the philosophy of putting the best players on the field, certainly that group would give the Broncos enviable depth at the position, but the way things work in the NFL, teams don’t often operate in that manner.

No matter how the roster ends up, I think the Broncos are counting on Montee Ball in a big way, and they aren’t going to waste any time getting him on the field and making an impact. There are big expectations for the former Wisconsin tailback.

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