Following a disappointing 45-38 loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl, the number of players and coaches set to leave the Wisconsin football team surely left Badger faithfuls with the sourest of tastes on their tongues.
But on Jan. 5, Montee Ball delivered a heck of a tasty treat.
Ball, who just completed a junior season in which he was named a Heisman Trophy finalist, announced he will return to the Badgers for his senior season three days after falling short in Pasadena.
“It came down to looking in the mirror and telling myself what’s best for myself and my family and just listening to my heart,” Ball said, before addressing Badger fans directly. “And to the entire Wisconsin nation, I will be returning for my senior season.”
The Badgers will lose 11 starters next season, as well as five assistant coaches, which means Ball should be a central figure in the University of Wisconsin’s 2012 success.
Postseason games included, Ball led the nation in 2011 with 1,923 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and tied Barry Sanders’ single-season touchdown record of 39. As a multitude of school and NCAA records fell at the hands of Ball, he earned consensus All-American recognition and was named the Ameche-Dayne Big Ten Running Back of the Year, among other honors.
Nevertheless, Ball’s initial report back from the NFL told him he’d likely be a third-round pick, which didn’t satisfy him. Ball said that led him to lean toward staying in Madison.
Ball cited several reasons for returning, among them: an excitement to continue his career with his teammates and coaches, consultations with his parents and no concerns about money. He also believed he could improve his draft stock with another year at UW.
Ball shed 20 pounds for the 2011 season in an effort to improve his speed and agility. He weighed in at 210 pounds in the season opener, but now says he plans on putting on “about 10 pounds” to increase his strength.
“When they came back and said third round, I was really disappointed,” Ball said. “I do believe I am better than the third round.
“…Just sit back and relax and enjoy another great season … like I said, it’s my decision and I believe I made the right one.”
Konz headed for the pros
While Ball elected to stay, one man who helped plow the road for the running back - redshirt junior Peter Konz, a starter at center for two seasons - officially announced his decision to enter the NFL draft Jan. 10.
“As you’ve probably heard, I have decided to forgo my senior season and enter the NFL draft,” Konz said in an open letter to Badger fans, referencing early reports that he had decided to enter the draft.
Konz earned first-team All-American honors in 2011 and was named a Rimington Trophy finalist, an award given every year to the nation’s top center. As a redshirt sophomore in 2010, his first year as a starter, Konz also earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition.
Konz, who plans to graduate this spring with a degree in communication arts, said he felt confident in leaving behind the college game with ample support from his friends and family and after receiving “second-to-none training” from the coaching and training staff as well as his teammates at Wisconsin.
“As I thought about it, I realized I was ready for hundreds of reasons,” he said. “I know from what [UW personnel] have taught me about perseverance, hard work and integrity that I can start my professional career and feel confident in my abilities.”