INDIANAPOLIS –After a 2011 season that saw Montee Ball lead the nation with 1,923 rushing yards and 2,229 scrimmage yards, set a Big Ten mark with 33 touchdowns on the ground and tie the NCAA mark of Barry Sanders with 39 overall touchdowns, he had a decision to make.
Return for a final season, or head to the NFL?
Ball stayed put, but adversity set in.
The 5-11, 215-pound back endured a difficult moment with a trespassing offense last spring and before practice started for his final season, Ball was the victim of a five-man physical assault that left him with a concussion.
Missing a week of preseason work was the cost, then Wisconsin dropped a 10-7 game at Oregon State where Ball had 61 yards on 15 carries, his lowest output in 20 career starts. To boot, he was kept out of the end zone, ending a streak of 21 straight games with a score, six shy of tying the NCAA record.
His response – Ball fought through frustration, listened to his coaches and kept working.
By season's end, he rushed for 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns on 356 attempts and Wisconsin righted itself to reach the Rose Bowl again. There, Ball became the first player ever to top 100 rushing yards in three consecutive Rose Bowls and the first to score touchdowns in three different Rose Bowl games.
Ball feels very prepared for his career to shift to the NFL because of his four years at Wisconsin.
"I do believe that I'm a better player," said Ball. "I do a lot of things better without the football – blocking, chipping ends and being there for my team. I'm immensely prepared for this, physically as well. I understand now the level of competition that I'm putting myself into and really looking forward to it."
Ball was very prepared at his previous level. He ended his Badger career as the NCAA's career touchdown leader (83). He had 5,140 career rushing yards, had 26 100-yard games and a 5.6 average.
Ball ranks first in school history with 500 points and produced 5,738 all-purpose yards in starting 32-of-49 career outings.
Playing at 15 pounds less than earlier in his career, Ball has heard mentions that his size puts him between being smallish as a power back and a bit big to be a pure speed back.
"They say I'm not special," said Ball prior to the combine. "They say I'm not especially fast. They say I'm not especially big. Well, fine, I'll take that as a compliment. They're not tearing me apart. They're just saying that I don't do one thing special.
"So what? If you're pretty good all the way around, then you can be a very good running back."
Wisconsin used Ball in the passing game in 2011 to a greater degree because of Russell Wilson. Ball had 24 receptions for six touchdowns and a 12.8 average, including a 63-yarder against UNLV.
Ball's durability is not in question. He had 39 rushes against Ohio State last year, the day he tied the NCAA touchdown record, and he had 924 carries in his career.
He offers two examples of players who shaped his own approach to the game.
"I try to blend my game after Terrell Davis," said Ball. "He's my idol. But I hear a lot and I've been watching a lot of tape ... I feel like I run a lot like Curtis Martin. Nothing really stands out – like speed or strength, but (they were) very balanced overall and very consistent.
"People said the same thing (regarding size) about them. They didn't do anything special. Well, they both ended up having pretty good careers."
Ball said he hoped to show NFL teams that his aptitude will be an advantage. He believes his career showed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, particularly during his junior year with Wilson.
The NFL is all about production, and Ball says what he offers will please any team.
"Accountability, durability and consistent. I'm extremely consistent," said Ball of what he offers. "You can count on me when I have the ball in my hands – 924 carries, only two fumbles. I do a great job of protecting the football. I score touchdowns. You can count on me to make the play and be there for you."
LOOKING AT THE 2013 NFL DRAFT'S RUNNING BACKS
THE LAST FIVE
The last five running backs drafted by the Colts:
2012: Vick Ballard, fifth round, Mississippi State
2011: Delone Carter, fourth round, Syracuse
2009: Donald Brown, first round, Connecticut
2008: Mike Hart, sixth round, Michigan
2006: Joseph Addai, first round, LSU
THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
An alphabetical list of running backs expected to be selected in the 2013 NFL Draft (*-denotes underclassman):
Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Kenjon Barner, Oregon
Giovani Bernard, North Carolina*
Tommy Bohanon, Wake Forest
Zach Boren, Ohio State
Andre Ellington, Clemson
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
Kyle Juszczyk, Harvard
Eddie Lacy, Alabama*
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina*
Zach Line, SMU
Lonnie Pryor, Florida State
Stepfa'n Taylor, Stanford
Kerwynn Williams, Utah State
Braden Wilson, Kansas State
Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears
on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.