Monday, June 05, 2023

UW Athletic Hall of Fame: Montee Ball


General News June 05, 2023 Nate Jelinek

One of the best running backs in school history now helps teens and young adults in his community

MADISON, Wis. — The first edition of the Big Ten Football Championship Game, in 2011, was an instant classic. In a back and forth affair on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf in Indianapolis, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball scampered for 137 yards and three scores on the ground. In a well-rounded offensive performance, the UW junior also grabbed a touchdown catch and completed a 32-yard pass to quarterback Russell Wilson.

On the other side of the ball, the Badger defense was tasked with containing future NFL stars Kirk Cousins and Le'Veon Bell. Chris Borland, a redshirt sophomore linebacker, made seven tackles.

After a 7-yard Ball touchdown run with 3:45 to play, the UW defense held on to seal the 42-39 victory and send the Badgers to Pasadena for a second consecutive season.

Wisconsin Badgers running back Montee Ball (28) celebrates a victory after the Big Ten Football Championship NCAA football game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers Saturday, December 1, in Indianapolis. The Badgers won 70-31 to send the team to the Rose Bowl.


More than 11 years after that rollercoaster evening in Indy, Ball and Borland grabbed coffee in Madison this spring. Ball, who was in town for a speaking engagement, had time to catch up with his former teammate before his flight home.

"We were drinking coffee and (Chris) asked me what time my flight was," said Ball. "He was like, 'Hey, Mac wants to chat with you.'"

Later that morning, Borland and Ball arrived at Kellner Hall and stepped into the office of Wisconsin Director of Athletics Chris McIntosh, overlooking Camp Randall Stadium. McIntosh shut the door.

"He let me know that I was going to be inducted into the hall of fame," said Ball.

"I was immediately blown back. I was caught off guard. I was not expecting it whatsoever. And of course, I immediately started to tear up, because it means a lot to me."

Borland, who was in on the surprise, stood by as Mac delivered the good news.

"Obviously, Mac had shared it with him," said Ball. "I looked at him and was like 'you son of a gun.' So, it was obviously an amazing moment. They had the Kleenexes ready for me. I was just looking out on the field just reminiscing on everything. It just came at me really quickly and it was again, just a moment that I'll never forget."

Monday, June 5 will be another day Ball will remember for a long time. Not only was that the day Ball's UW Athletic Hall of Fame induction was officially announced but it coincided with the announcement of his inclusion on the 2024 College Football Hall of Fame ballot. He is one of 78 FBS players to be selected for the ballot. If chosen, Ball would be just 13th player in Badger history to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. The voting results will be
announced in January, 2024. 

UW Athletic Hall of Fame: Montee Ball

Top Five

One: In a Badger uniform on Saturdays, Ball assembled one of the most impressive careers for a ball carrier in both UW and college football history. In a Badger football record book that includes legends like Ron Dayne, Jonathan Taylor, Melvin Gordon and James White, Ball ranks third all-time with 5,140 career rushing yards. By splitting time with Gordon, White and John Clay, Ball competed directly for carries with peers who combined for six 1,000-yard seasons and 58 100-yard rushing performances.

In 2011, Ball scored 39 total touchdowns, matching the legendary Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season record. He totaled 1,923 rushing yards, the most in the country, and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. That fall belonged to Ball.

"We had such an emphasis in 2011, starting from summer conditioning and into training camp, where we just told each other that when we get the opportunity to score, we must score a touchdown," said Ball. "We must finish the drive. We wanted to dominate, we wanted to score."

Ball went on to finish his Wisconsin career with a school record 77 rushing touchdowns and a then-FBS record 83 total touchdowns.

Two: As part of that historic 2011 season, Ball's performance in the Big Ten Championship helped propel the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. Ball remembers the matchup against Michigan State in Indianapolis as one of the greatest games he played in.

"Watching the fans travel to Indianapolis and fill the stadium, seeing the scene in there, and just the emotions from that game, those are things I'll never forget."

After a last-second defeat at the hands of the Spartans in East Lansing earlier in the season, the revenge was sweet for the Badgers.

"I love that Michigan State memory because we wanted to get that revenge so bad on them from that Hail Mary. We were able to get that revenge."

The Badgers then ascended on Southern California for the Rose Bowl, the second of three that Ball would play in during his career. Ball totaled three separate 100-yard rushing performances in those games, the only player in the illustrious history of the 'Granddaddy of Them All' to accomplish that feat.

Three: The big moments in those seasons were shared with teammates who bought in and worked to be part of something bigger than themselves.

"We had some great players on both sides of the football," he said. "We were really just flowing as a unit. In practice, we were focused. In the film room, we were focused. In 2011, I really think Russell (Wilson) brought that over to us. It helped us get over that hump of really becoming a dominant team and I think that's what we did."

Looking back, Ball recognizes the support and guidance he received from teammates and the coaching staff as the Badgers flourished in the early 2010s.

"I think when you look at those 2010-2012 seasons, I really believe Barry (Alvarez), Coach (Bret) Bielema and the coaching staff did a great job of putting people in the right positions to really allow us to be successful."

When reflecting on his career, Ball was quick to credit others for their impact on his career and legacy. The greatness inside those Badger running back rooms helped Ball make his mark as a generational talent.

"With those running backs that were in the room with me, I believe there's no way that I'd be in consideration for the Hall of Fame if it wasn't for those guys pushing me. I had to perform better in order to just be on the field because that's how good they were."

Off the field, Ball recognized that his support group helped pave the way for his success between the lines.

"I also want to thank my family. My parents, my sisters, my grandmother, my uncle and every single person who supported me throughout my whole journey from a young age. This honor is something I'm sharing with them as well."

Four: Ball's experience with dark days and adversity is part of his personal journey as well. With the highs of his athletic career, collegiately and professionally, Ball also dealt with lows that included bouts with alcoholism.

Through the many trials and tribulations Ball weathered during his career as a Badger, an NFL player and as a person, the recognition from his alma mater provided a full-circle moment. Ball, who was emotional upon learning of his inclusion into the UW Athletic Hall of Fame, wasn't sure this day would ever come.

"I didn't think this would be in the works for me," he said. "Let's just call a spade a spade here, I've made some mistakes that I've made amends about and that I've taken ownership for. I'm still in long-term recovery to this day. So, today this means so much. When I signed my letter of intent to become a Badger, I was told that once you're a Badger, you're always a Badger. I think this right here, proves it."

Five: These days, Ball is living in Denver and working as a licensed realtor and a clinical outreach ambassador at Sandstone Care, a treatment facility.

"My day-to-day, is not only focused on myself and my son, Maverick, but outside of that, I give back to communities," said Ball. "And now, what I'm doing, is giving back to teens and young adults, regarding addiction treatment. It fills my cup as well. And that's what I'm going to keep doing.

"And now I can say I'm a Hall of Fame running back at the University of Wisconsin."

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