September 22, 2009

Redshirt not a given for Ball

MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin football team is a quarter of the way through its 2009 season. And to this point, freshman running back Montee Ball[db] has yet to see the field.

So naturally, the million-dollar question is will he redshirt or continue to vie for playing time as a true freshman?

"Montee is still a guy that we've seen flashes of," UW running backs coach [db]John Settle said following a recent practice. "We know that he can play. However (with) some sicknesses and things like that he hasn't had an opportunity to get on the field yet."

Near the end of last week, and leading into Saturday's game against Wofford, UW head coach Bret Bielema made it clear that Ball was suffering from the tail end of a flu bug that raced through the entire team the previous week.

In addition to the bug, a family member of Ball's unfortunately passed away. So he was understandably not present for the game Saturday while he was back home in Missouri.

Now back with the team and leading into conference play, the coaching staff understands that Ball may still be able to contribute this season.

"Going into conference play, we hope to get him a few reps," Settle said. "It's one of those things where we know we have three (backs), maybe we'll have four. At any given time we might need all of them. It's good to be able to look behind you and say, go in whether we need him or whether it's just to spell a guy and give him some reps."

As one of the more lauded recruits in the Midwest during the past recruiting cycle, Ball was one of the players the coaching staff couldn't wait to see in fall camp. And after his performance in August, it seemed he would be a lock for game reps as a true freshman.

"Coming out of camp he was one of the bright spots," Settle said. "We definitely wanted to get him in early."

But when a 28-6 second half lead over Northern Illinois evaporated into a tight 28-20 win in week one and when the Fresno State game went down to the wire in week two, the coaching staff never found a way, or correct timing to get him into the game.

"In the NIU game we were getting ready to put him in," Settle said. "But things changed rather rapidly."

Then, against Wofford, obviously the sickness and death in the family kept him out. Still, moving into a physical conference schedule, the point remains that Ball could provide some depth this year and forego his redshirt option.

"I think he's a guy that understands what's happening and if he gets an opportunity I do believe he'll take advantage of it," Settle said. "Right now, I think he would do whatever he had to do to help the team. If we lost a guy now this week and we needed him, I believe he'd play.

"If he got in a situation where we could play him down the road, I believe he wants to play. We'll suggest that (redshirt) if the time comes and see where it goes."

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