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14 // VARSITY January 30, 2014 BY MIKE LUCAS // UWBADGERS.COM LUCAS AT LARGE M ontee Ball had scores of text messages to sift through after the Denver Broncos selected the Wisconsin tailback with their second round pick and the 58th overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft. One caught his eye. "I went through a bunch of texts," Ball said, "and I got to a final one and after I read the message, I looked at it again when I got to the bottom be- cause it read, 'P. Manning.'" That's when it hit Ball that he was about to step into another league, and world. "It was crazy," he said. "All I could think was, 'Whoa, I just got a text from Peyton.' It was a very special moment."' Nine months later, Ball will get to experience another very special moment by playing in the Super Bowl. He's not just going along for the ride with Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, either. Ball has become an integral com- ponent of the Broncos' rushing at- tack, along with Knowshon Moreno, all of which has seemingly validated his decision to return for his senior year with the Badgers. "It does validate it," Ball said. "I talked to my parents about that earlier this week. Say I had left after my junior year, who knows where I would have ended up? "Everything happens for a reason and I'm so glad that I stayed for my final year because I ended up on my favorite team (Denver) growing up as a child and, now, I'm in the Super Bowl." It does beg the question, "What did Ball advise Melvin Gordon to do?" Gordon, a third-year sopho- more out of Kenosha, Wis., serious- ly considered declaring for the NFL draft before opting to return. "He kept asking me, 'What are your thoughts?" Ball recounted. "I just told him, 'To be really honest, you should stay.' You can ask him. That's what I told him." Ball pointed out to Gordon that in order to be viewed as the best running back in college football, you have to clearly establish your- self as the best running back on your own team. Last season, he noted, Gordon was a complementary tailback to James White, but next year "you're going to get the bulk of the carries and you'll get an opportunity to showcase what you can do." Along with setting an NCAA record for career touchdowns (83), Ball had 356 carries for 1,830 yards in 2012. He had 231 more rushes than White and averaged 130.7 yards to White's 57.6 per game. The statistical disparity between the two speaks to the message that Ball delivered to Gordon on the value of playing another year as the featured back in the Wisconsin offense. As a senior, Ball also overcame some adversity when he was as- saulted in early August less than a block from his apartment. "That moment changed my life and per- spective," he has said when asked. Of course, he was asked ― again and again ― about the assault dur- ing Media Day at the Super Bowl. His response has remained consis- tent ― stressing to everyone that the incident was behind him. Ball would also like to believe that he has put his fumbling behind him after losing the ball twice in his first 31 carries with the Broncos. It matched the number that he lost in 924 rushes at Wisconsin. "I was puzzled. I was asking myself, 'What's going on?' because I never did it in college," he said Sun- day while riding the team bus to the airport for the flight to New Jersey. "But I fought through it." Ball credited his Denver team- mates for "picking him up" whenev- er he was down, especially Moreno, and he praised running backs coach Eric Studesville, a Madison native, for believing in him. "You have to put the football away faster in the NFL," said Ball, who had to learn to position the ball "high and tight" as soon as he got the handoff "because of the great athletes on defense." "As a rookie, when you're making mistakes early in the season, it hits you kind of hard because you want to gain the respect from your team- mates in the locker room. "You learn patience. It's just a matter of moving on to the next play and forgetting about the last play. I feel very comfortable right now and my confidence is heading in the right direction." On Dec. 1, Ball rushed 13 times for 117 yards in Denver's 35-28 win at Kansas City. "That was a major boost to my confidence," he said. "It was a big game for us and I did some good things." His first 100-yard-plus rushing game, which included 73 yards Ball living a dream with Manning, Broncos Continued on Page 16