Badgers White, Ball push each other
During summer conditioning, if University of Wisconsin tailback James White posted a better time in the 40-yard dash than fellow tailback Montee Ball, the older Ball had to win the next day.
“One day he would win,” Ball said, “and the next day I would win.”
The competition in the weight room was more intense.
“He’ll go in there and squat a certain weight,” Ball said. “I’ll put on five pounds—2½ on each side—just to say I did five more than he did.”
The competition intensified on the practice field during preseason camp, with running backs coach Thomas Hammock playing the role of instigator.
One day Ball opened with the No. 1 offense. The next day it would be White.
“It fires me up,” Ball said. “That is just what he’s doing. He is stirring the pot for both of us. And it’s working because we are both progressing.”
Ball, a junior, is set to start at 7 p.m. today when UW opens the season against visiting Nevada-Las Vegas. He earned the starting assignment with a fabulous camp. But White, who as a freshman last season led UW in rushing with 1,052 yards, should get an ample share of the workload.
White will be on Ball’s heels, figuratively, pushing his friend and teammate.
“It is just a healthy competition,” White said. “If he breaks a long run, I want to break a longer run. If he makes a nice block, I want to make a nicer block. It’s only going to help the team when we’re out there pushing each other.”
Both appear to be better players than they were last season, when they combined for 2,048 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns.
“They made a commitment this summer to work their butt off to increase their skills and play at a higher level,” Hammock said.
Ball has undergone the most dramatic transformation. He reshaped his body by dropping 25 pounds from the end of last season. He is listed at 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds and you’d need a microscope to find any fat on that frame.
During camp, Ball appeared quicker and faster than he was as a sophomore when he rushed for 996 yards and a team-high 18 touchdowns.
“I think it is his mind-set of how he is attacking (practice) and running the ball,” Hammock said. “I think what he is doing is coming out here and practicing full-speed every day.
“And when you’re doing that every day, you get in the habit of making that same cut that you’re going to need to make in a game. That is what is helping him play at a faster tempo.”
The only concern Ball expressed about his lighter payload was that he might not be able to run with as much power. That was an issue at times in the spring, but it never surfaced during camp.
“I think he wants to prove to everybody he’s still got that power,” coach Bret Bielema said. “Where I notice it is in pass protection. That’s where I thought it would show up—in his one-on-ones against linebackers and tight ends—that he wasn’t able to hold up.
“But he’s even stronger than he was a year ago.”
White, 5-10 and 195, hasn’t undergone any noticeable physical changes. He believes his legs are stronger from a full off-season in the weight room and that his mind is quicker from additional video work.
“He is just going to make the right decisions,” said Hammock, who acknowledged with a grin he rotated the backs in camp to keep each guessing. “It’s definitely to keep them on their toes.”
Injuries are always a wild card and UW has two talented reserves in freshman Melvin Gordon and redshirt freshman Jeff Lewis.
Yet, based on the numbers they posted last season and based on their off-season improvements, it’s realistic to think both Ball and White could hit the 1,000-yard mark this season.
Complacency should not be an issue for either player.
“The greatest thing we’ve got going for us is those two together,” Bielema said. “If I just had one—now they can kind of get that prima donna (attitude).”
“If either one begins to feel that way, the other one will go right by him.”