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December 17, 2011
MADISON - Junior tailback Montee Ball isn't about grandstanding, flip-flopping or positioning himself as a misleading person.
When he says he will leave the University of Wisconsin if he receives a first or second round grade from the NFL Draft advisory board - - a committee set up to objectively rate a players NFL prospects - - he means it.
If it's later, he'll have to take a longer look at things.
"I sent it in on Monday," Ball said earlier this week. "I should be getting it back real soon. I'll sit down with coach Bret Bielema and my parents and talk about it.
"I'll make the right decision."
Ball, as the nation's leading rusher (1,756 yards) and touchdown-scorer (38 total), certainly has publicity on his side.
Just a week ago Ball spent time in Orlando (Doak Walker) and New York City (Heisman) as he patiently waited to see if he would be a national award winner. He was profiled on ESPN, talked about on SportsCenter and made several appearances on national media programming throughout the week.
If people didn't know about Ball before UW clinched a spot in the Rose Bowl they almost certainly do now.
Knowing that, and knowing that his stock has never been higher, Ball and his family is, at the very least, exploring an NFL future.
"Running backs are a little bit different than offensive linemen," Bielema said. "It's just the cold hard facts. NFL careers for running backs are shorter. I totally get it and that perspective.
"I'll leave it up to the people in the room to give me the advice that I will give to Montee."
Bielema, now in his sixth-year at Wisconsin, is in a pretty enviable position. He's been around long enough and has had enough sustained success that establishing professional relationships with NFL executives, the decision-makers come draft day, has been productive.
Saying that general managers and scouts are always coming through UW facilities - - watching players in practice, watching film of players, etc - - Bielema is confident he'll amass the best information possible for Ball.
"They want to give us good information," Bielema said. "I don't think I had that comfort or that flexibility during my first couple of years."
Ball turned 21 years old earlier this month and will play in UW's upcoming Rose Bowl game against high-octane Oregon Jan. 2nd. That game will represent the Badgers final game of the 2011 season. It could also very easily represent Ball's final game in Cardinal and White.
Stating that any decision he makes will be a good one - - Ball will either return to the program he loves for his senior year or enter the NFL draft - - Ball is focusing on making sure he does his best to stay focused on the immediate task at hand.
Acknowledging how it's a personal battle to fight off individual distractions, Ball is deadest on ending his memorable season, and potentially his collegiate career, in admirable fashion.
When he says he won't succumb to distractions, why wouldn't you believe him?
"That's why all I've done up to this point is fill out the paperwork and turned it in," Ball said. "I've just left it as that. It can become a distraction, but I'm just going to focus on Oregon."