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September 30, 2009Ballard flashed a Hollywood smile as the referee handed him the championship belt and raised his left arm. Isaac Cordoza had been defeated. The public address announcer's voice boomed:
"In ring six, the 152 champion is, out of the blue corner, D'Mitrius Ballard."
"Before the tournament, I told D'Mitrius I believed he would stop every guy," said Roach, a Bible thumping Christian who incorporates God into his training. "When he's in the ring, there's a mission going on and he knows he's going to complete it. He believes in himself; boxing is all about believing in yourself. The scripture says if you believe, there's nothing that's impossible."
And that includes Ballard's ultimate goal: London.
But in order to earn a trip to the Olympics, boxers must be selected by the U.S. national team and then defeat all the top boxers in their weight class at the Olympic Trials. Despite his progress, Ballard is still on the outside looking in. His chances - and the chances of all amateurs for that matter -- aren't great, according to a number of boxing gurus. That won't stop Ballard from trying.
"I definitely can make the Olympics," said Ballard, who has won a third Ringside Championship and a Junior Olympics silver medal so far in 2009. "I work hard, I have a good coach and I have that kind of ability and talent."
But much can change before London calls in 2012. Heck, by that time Ballard could be donning football pads at the University of Maryland. Seriously.
Turns out Ballard is one of those rare athletes who excels in more than one sport. At Potomac, he's a starting receiver and defensive back. Ballard may only be around 160 pounds, but he can hit like a 250-pound linebacker and plays receiver with the same edge as Steelers wide-out Hines Ward.
"He has an innate toughness about him and he's very physical," said Potomac football coach Chris Davidson. "Considering his out-of-football hobby, he's not afraid of contact."
Besides toughness, Ballard has exceptionally quick feet, good hands and a high football IQ, according to Davidson. He still has two more years left in school, but he's already receiving ample mail from schools like UCLA, Michigan State, Penn State and Maryland.
"I think he's a Division I kid without question," Davidson said. "He's definitely that caliber depending on how hard he works and if he takes care of his body."
Thus the dilemma. Does Ballard bulk up and prepare himself for college football? Or does he pursue his boxing dream and the 2012 Olympics? Does he listen to Davidson, who believes boxing is keeping him from reaching his potential? Or does he listen to Roach, who said the only problem he has with Ballard is football practice? It's a decision he's not ready to make just yet.
"It's hard to pick right now," Ballard said. "I'm naturally a boxer, but football is my first love. I would love to play college football, but the Olympics are also my goal."
Perhaps he'll become the next Tom Zbikowski, the Ravens safety who boxed at Notre Dame. But in the meantime, it's pads and helmets by day, gloves and sparring by night.
As Ballard winds down after a long day at NoXcuse gym, he pops in one of his boxing DVDs: Holyfield vs. Tyson I. Holyfield mesmerizes him. Ballard's eyes fixate on the grace, the brute strength and the big left hook. Then the 15-year-old amateur begins to shadowbox the room, his hands a whir in the dim evening light.
"I have fast hands, power, I can fight inside and outside," Ballard said. "I'm the whole package. No one has stopped me yet."
London is waiting.