It may not have been the Heisman Trophy many expected before his senior campaign, but the Doak Walker Award served as a decent consolation prize for Wisconsin running back Montee Ball Thursday night.
Sporting a Badger red bow tie and matching vest as he accepted the award at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Fla., Ball’s 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns proved enough to beat out UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin and Oregon’s Kenjon Barner, the two other finalists. The award is given annually to the nation’s “most outstanding running back.”
“Speaking for me personally I had to face some adversity off the field and then obviously the team did as well,” Ball said in a brief interview with ESPN’s Chris Fowler after accepting the award. “I believe we made a statement in our last game and as of right now I’m just honored to share this entire experience with my family and most importantly the other two great running backs that are here today.”
The adversity the senior running back faced in the offseason — including an arrest at the Mifflin Street Block Party and an attack on campus that left him with a concussion just before the start of training camp — has turned into a popular storyline as he has bounced back for a strong senior season.
In his first five games of the 2012 season — one which began with a Heisman campaign sponsored by the UW Athletic Department — Ball crossed the 100-yard mark in only two games. But he rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns in the Badgers’ 70-31 victory over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game Saturday, his fourth-consecutive game with at least 100 rushing yards.
Ball ran for nearly 700 yards over that four-game stretch to make a late push to earn the top postseason awards, even making a case as an outside Heisman contender.
“I think just speaking for all the leaders and the captains we played a huge part in rallying the team together after all the adversity that struck and keeping us all together,” Ball said. “I got to give credit to my running backs coach (Thomas Hammock) for everything he’s done for me, without him I wouldn’t be in this position and my parents and everybody.”
Ball was also a Doak Walker finalist in 2011 and many felt he was snubbed as Alabama running back Trent Richardson took home the trophy. He is the second player in Wisconsin history to earn the award after Ron Dayne won the award in 1999, the same year he won the Heisman Trophy.
One game remains in a collegiate career that surely ranks as one of the most impressive in Wisconsin history for Ball. He has gained 5,040 yards and an NCAA record 76 touchdowns since arriving in Madison four years ago, and those overall numbers likely helped him earn the Doak Walker.
That final game will take place on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif., where three-time Rose Bowl champion Barry Alvarez will lead the team following the surprising departure of Bret Bielema earlier this week. When asked about having Alvarez on the sideline for his final game in a cardinal and white uniform, Ball appeared visibly excited.
“It’s going to be great,” he said. “My last game ever, I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’s capable of bringing to the table. “ … Really excited for him to join us and we’re all just looking forward to playing another game in front of our fans.”
Follow Ian on Twitter