Fame has its price. Just ask Wisconsin tailback Monte? Ball.
After announcing he would return for his senior season, the hype and scrutiny surrounding the 2011 Heisman finalist rose meteorically even before the 2012 season opener.
“It’s a completely different lifestyle I’m living right now,” Ball said. “Walking in as a freshman, I had the big eyes looking at all the other players and looking at just the campus. But now, once I step out, it seems like everyone has the big eyes looking at me.”
For Ball, the realization of his increased fame and recognition in the public eye did not occur during his dominant junior campaign – a season in which he tied Barry Sanders’ single-season touchdown record with 39, leading the nation in rushing yards and total yards – or the publicity campaign Wisconsin athletics has been running for the running back’s push for the Heisman in 2012.
“Mifflin,” Ball said. “That leaked, that went viral quick, … very, very fast. That was an eye-opener for me.”
One of 400-plus arrests that occurred at the Mifflin Street Block Party this past spring, Ball found himself “at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Within minutes of being put in handcuffs – Ball was later released and issued a $429 ticket on a citation for trespassing – local news outlets published video of the incident as the story eventually made its way onto the top headlines of ESPN.com. It was noted on the incident report Ball was cooperative with police and alcohol was a non-factor.
But that wasn’t the last offseason incident Ball had to endure. The most trying and serious moment came during the early hours of Aug. 1 when Ball was jumped by five men and beaten to the ground outside a campus bar. He suffered a bruised jaw as well as a concussion.
With the police investigation into the matter still ongoing and details still unclear – most recently police arrested three men allegedly involved in assaulting Ball – there was no shortage of stories involving Ball in the summer months.
The star running back admits he’s had to adjust to the constant attention and shrinking privacy that have come with the offseason turmoil and being a star, something he described as living in “a fishbowl.”
“It was different for me obviously,” Ball said. “With the situation I dealt with people were really itching to write stories and stuff like that, but obviously that’s [the media’s] job; that’s what [they] do. This fishbowl, … it opened my eyes. But you live and you learn and I most definitely learned from that experience. I’m really glad it happened, you know looking on the bright side of it, it really opened my eyes.”
Wisconsin running backs coach Thomas Hammock believes the trials Ball endured will make him an even better player when he suits up for the cardinal and white.
“I think it’s made him stronger as a person,” Hammock said. “It’s all part of the growing up process, learning from experience. He’s learned, he’s grown and I’m sure he’s anxious to get onto the field and play.”
Hammock has also seen Ball’s leadership evolve over the past year as his star pupil was elected one of the Badgers’ six captains for the season.
“In the offseason and throughout fall camp he’s put an emphasis on being more vocal,” Hammock said. “He’s always led by example, but he’s trying to be more vocal in encouraging guys to work harder.”
It’s a testament echoed by Ball’s teammate and fellow running back, redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon.
“[Ball] is more of a guy who leads by example, but he’s learned to be vocal,” Gordon said. “He tries to do some things to get the team going. Anyone who wants to come and talk to him – he’s always willing to speak. That’s what captains are and that’s why he was named captain. Him being a Heisman finalist didn’t change anything. If anything he’s been working harder.”
As a captain, Ball hopes his teammates will learn from what he’s experienced before the season.
“With everyone who has ever had success, there’s always going to be people who don’t like it,” Ball said. “But that’s what we have to understand. Every single player on this team lives in a fishbowl and that’s what I needed to understand.”
And with football finally returning to Camp Randall, Ball will have his chance to leave all the headlines from the past few months in his dust.
“What football brings is normalcy,” Hammock said. “You know what to expect, you know what you’re going to get from coaches, you know what to expect from practice and it brings you back to what feels right. It certainly has been great working with him and I’m anxious to see him play.”
“I can’t wait,” Ball said. “Just like I’ve been telling everybody. Everyone’s waiting to see how I’m going to respond from everything I dealt with this summer and I’m going to make sure I respond in the right way.”