What a long, strange trip it’s been.
After being benched two seasons ago with slow feet and a big belly, Wisconsin’s star running back, Montee Ball, hit the gym and cut off the Big Macs.
It worked, and Ball dominated in his junior campaign like only Barry Sanders had before, scoring a total of 39 touchdowns and earning an invite to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Whereas most folks in Madison expected that to be the end of the story, with their beloved Ball riding off into the sunset of the NFL Draft following a fantastic individual effort in the Rose Bowl, this is where the story takes a tangent.
Down a dark, scary alley.
Instead of taking the fat salary and enjoying himself amongst the ranks of the professionals, Ball shocked the nation in choosing to return to school and to Madison. However, walking home late one night, Ball was jumped by reportedly five men, who attacked him and rattled him so badly that the All-American was left bruised, bloody, and concussed.
Not a great way to kick off one’s senior year, and it would only get worse on the football field.
Without NC State transfer Russell Wilson under center, coach Bret Bielema leaned on former Maryland signal-caller Danny O’Brien, who was so ineffective that not only did the team lose unexpectedly to Oregon State, but nearly got beat by Northern Iowa and Utah State before limping into Big Ten play.
Ball himself struggled with post-concussive symptoms and various leg injuries that would keep him from piling up the type of yardage he astounded the nation with a season ago.
With a 17-yard sprint around the right side of his burly, cheese-fed offensive line in the first quarter of the Badgers’ season finale against Penn State, all of that was washed away. All of the questions regarding his decision to stay at school, all of the waves of nausea dealing with his beating, all of the losses and struggles with the three men the Badgers have started at quarterback were forgotten, at least momentarily.
Ball had scored his 79th career touchdown, the most in the history of college football.
The score broke a tie in the record book with Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio), who had previously set the major college mark in 1999. Entering Saturday’s game, Ball had 72 career rushing scores — including 17 this season — to go with six receiving touchdowns.
With everything that has happened, Ball now stands alone, ahead of such all-time collegiate greats as Ricky Williams, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith.
Now, due to the postseason bans of Ohio State and Penn State, Ball has opportunity to lead his Badgers to victory in the Big Ten Championship Game and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl, potentially the Badgers’ third in a row.
A star performance on the national stage by the nation’s most prolific scorer would make for an excellent final stop in the long, strange trip that has been Montee Ball’s career with the University of Wisconsin.