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January 5, 2012MADISON - Wearing a pair of dark wash jeans and a black sweater, Wisconsin junior tailback Montee Ball made his future football decision, one that even he admits caught a lot of people off guard.
"It came down to looking in the mirror and telling myself what's best for myself and my family and just listening to my heart," Ball, who finished with more than 2,200 total yards this season and 39 touchdowns, said. "To the entire Wisconsin nation, I will be returning for my senior season."
Ball contemplated just about everything he could have in the buildup to this decision, one that he said started with some rather unassuming paperwork in late November. Everything from money, draft status, college life, the Heisman Trophy a college degree and a promise he made to his parents were discussed.
"The NFL came back and told me third round," Ball, who told his running back teammates his decision on Saturday, two days prior to UW's Rose Bowl game, said. "Just listening to what my parents had to say and listening to my heart, I believe I had to come back for my senior season and really be a leader for this team.
Not many would make a better leader for this Wisconsin team than Ball.
Having had the experience of losing his position to James White a year ago, as well as a bitter Rose Bowl loss to TCU, motivated Ball to become what he was this season, that being one of the best running backs in the entire nation.
That, in essence, is a reason many are so surprised Ball decided to come back. What could he possibly do to boost his draft stock for next year? How could he possibly do better than rush for 1,900-plus yards and 32 touchdowns?
He did just tie Barry Sanders' 23-year-old record for touchdowns scored in a single-season, after all.
To those people, Ball has a stern message.
"You don't know what I'm capable of doing," Ball said. "You have no idea what I can or cannot do for next season. Like I said, sit back, relax and enjoy another great season."
And it will be a season that's much different than this most recent one. Wisconsin won't have Russell Wilson, Nick Toon, its right side of the line, Aaron Henry, Antonio Fenelus, Patrick Butrym, Louis Nzegwu and Kevin Claxton on the field anymore.
They won't have Paul Chryst, Bob Bostad, DelVaughn Alexander and potentially Joe Rudolph in the coaches box anymore. And fellow junior Peter Konz still needs to make his decision public.
There's plenty of change coming for Wisconsin. That's another facet Ball considered with this decision.
"I have a lot of faith in coach Bielema," Ball said. "It is his job to keep this program where it's at. I believe he'll find coaches that are just as good or better than the coaches we had. I have faith in him.
"I know for a fact we'll be right where we're at."
Ball, wasn't sure what next year was going to present for Wisconsin. He wasn't sure if UW was going to be an 11-win team, if he was going to rush for 1,900 yards or if it would be back in the Big Ten championship competing for its third-straight Rose Bowl.
But always being a man of his word, Ball had to make due on a promise he made to his parents. And he wanted to make sure he had an opportunity to become a leader on a team while cementing his legacy in Madison.
"I promised my parents I'd get my degree," Ball said. "I'll stick by that promise. Like I told a couple players, maybe I'm not ready to leave yet. Maybe I'm not ready to leave this all behind. Maybe I'm not ready to leave this environment of this time of my life that I'll never get back. I'm a Badger for life, but I believe right now my heart lies heavily with the Badger family, not the NFL.
"I'm really looking forward to, if the players vote on it, for me to become a captain on this team."
The following is the audio file from Ball's press conference: