Preparation pays off for Wisconsin's Ball

Montee Ball appreciated the honesty in the summer, and he does so even more these days.

Ball knew when he signed up to play running back at Wisconsin, he would be in a constant competition. Badgers running backs coach John Settle simply doesn't do entitlement.

When Settle called Ball into his office in preseason camp, he told the sophomore what he needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear. Despite being the backup to Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay in 2009, Ball had been bypassed on the depth chart, by a true freshman (James White), no less.

"That's a good thing about here, the coaches are very honest with you," Ball said. "They'll tell you how it is. If you're not producing, they'll let you know, and if you are, they'll most definitely put you pretty high on the depth chart. That lets you know where you're at, and it tells you you're not preparing hard enough.

"That's what I took it as when I was third string; I wasn't preparing hard enough. So I made sure I got on top of it."

Ball never stopped preparing despite the demotion, and his patience has paid off for the Badgers in their last two wins. After coming up big on Wisconsin's game-winning drive at Iowa, recording a fourth-down reception and an 8-yard touchdown run, Ball took on an even larger role last week against Purdue.

The 5-11, 236-pound sophomore relieved the injured Clay and rushed for a career-high 127 yards and two touchdowns as Wisconsin rallied for a win to keep the Rose Bowl in its viewfinder.

"I just kept preparing during practice, kept my head up and just kept fighting," Ball said. "I knew my number was going to be called, and I wanted to be able to produce. I didn't want to let my team down."

Ball remembers the preseason conversation with Settle, who tried to gauge how the news would affect the running back. Ball's response: I’m not going anywhere. I'm here to stay.

He upgraded the way he prepared for games, spending more time in the film room. Ball took things to a new level last week as he knew White wouldn't be able to play because of a sprained knee.

"Like coach [Bret Bielema] always says, when you ask a player what they did this week to play well, the player says they watched more film than they ever have," Ball said. "That’s what I did the week before Purdue. I knew that I was second string going into that game, and I knew for sure I was going to get a lot of carries, so I made sure I prepared.

"Once John got a little nicked up, I knew that the team's going to look at me to carry the load. I wasn't surprised at all because I prepared well that week."

Ball is one of several Wisconsin offensive reserves who has stepped up when needed this season.

Jared Abbrederis filled in for Nick Toon at receiver. Jake Byrne and Jacob Pedersen filled in for Lance Kendricks at tight end. Bill Nagy has filled in along the offensive line, most recently after starting center Peter Konz hurt his ankle at Purdue.

Ball saw how his teammates prepared for bigger roles and did the same.

"He understands that for him to have success, he needs to come to work every day," Bielema said. "Montee knew that James was getting those reps because of the production he was having on the field. ... Now Montee has earned his own and probably is poised to make his first start of the season this week."