By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Vick Terry has been a welder for 21 years. He toils away in the heat and the cold – depending on the time of year – at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula. He has a dream and is determined to achieve it:
Hang up his welder’s mask and get his barbecue business off the ground.
“I’m pretty much determined to get out of there,” he said, and when Vick Terry is determined to do something, he does it.
It’s a trait he’s passed on to his son, Vick Ballard, Mississippi State’s senior tailback. When Division I scouts ignored him in high school, Ballard was determined to find his way to the Division I level. So, after initially signing with Jackson State, he made a last-minute decision to enroll at Gulf Coast Community College.
“I couldn’t even motivate myself to go (to JSU),” Ballard said. “When I signed, I tried to say, ‘I’m going to a four-year university,’ but I was looking at more than that. It’s a smaller level of football, and I wanted to see if I could get to that big stage.”
He’d signed with Jackson State to please his father, who was a little skeptical when Ballard decided to go the junior college route.
“I was looking at football, because I know he loves football and everything, but I was looking at a four-year degree,” Terry said. “Once he opted out and signed with Gulf Coast, it kind of played out in his favor. Once it played out in his favor, I kind of left him alone on his decision-making.”
Ballard made sure it worked in his favor by taking whatever role he was given and turning it into gold. As a senior at Pascagoula High, he played mostly slot receiver and led the team in touchdowns with 17.
His freshman season at Gulf Coast, Ballard played blocking back but led the team in touchdowns (12). Then he really broke out as a sophomore, racking up 1,728 yards – fourth in the nation – and 22 TDs. He earned first-team All-America honors.
And still, the offers did not come pouring in, with only Troy and MSU extending scholarships. Ballard jumped at the chance to show he belonged on the big stage.
“It definitely gave me a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “Really my whole football career has been like that, playing with a chip on my shoulder, because I’ve had to work for everything I’ve had. It’s just second nature to me now.”
When Ballard got on the big stage last fall, he wasted little time seizing the opportunity. Although he was sharing carries with LaDarius Perkins and quarterback Chris Relf, Ballard distinguished himself by that knack for finding the end zone.
He wound up with 19 rushing touchdowns and 20 overall, both totals breaking decades-old single-season school records. He gained a team-leading 968 yards at 5.2 yards per carry.
He might not be the fastest running back, but Ballard (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) is strong between the tackles and is fast enough to be an effective edge rusher when needed.
Ballard has led his team in touchdowns four consecutive seasons, and that ability to find the goal line was perhaps underappreciated by those coaches who passed on him.
But even Ballard admits to being a bit surprised at last year’s production – his 10 points per game led the SEC.
“I didn’t really know how much time I was going to get,” Ballard said. “Scoring 20 touchdowns in the SEC, that’s pretty good, now.”
Ballard, Perkins and Relf formed one of the league’s most potent backfields and eased the loss of school career rushing leader Anthony Dixon, who’s now with the San Francisco 49ers.
The ‘it’ factor
Head coach Dan Mullen was not surprised by this development. But what did he see in Ballard that so many other coaches apparently missed?
Mullen said it was a matter of listening to the men who’d coached Ballard.
“The coaches said, hey, this guy has a work ethic that he’s going to be a great player for you. He will not settle for not being the best,” Mullen said.
It’s not uncommon for high school and juco coaches to pump up their players in an effort to help them get a scholarship, but Mullen has found every word about Ballard to be true.
“There wasn’t one thing that you watched and you said, ‘OK, yeah, I can see this guy’s going to be a star,’ ” said Mullen. “But once you met him you knew he’s got kind of a chip on his shoulder, that he’s out to prove everybody wrong. And he has that kind of ‘it’ persona inside of him that he’s going to make himself great.”
What gives Ballard that “it” quality? His dad knows.
“Determination. Real determination.”
Ballard has doggedly pursued respect but somehow hasn’t let it interfere with team goals.
Over the first six games of last season he averaged 8.3 carries. In the final two games of that stretch, he rushed for 119 yards on eight carries versus Alcorn State and then 134 yards on 14 carries at Houston, with three TDs in each contest.
After 98 yards in an upset at Florida, Ballard missed a game with injury. He finished the season strong, averaging 91.7 yards on 21.3 carries his last six games.
Ballard channels his ambition through a philosophy of doing the small things right and persevering when those small things don’t seem to be adding up. That’s in line with what Mullen emphasizes.
“I’m not no selfish player,” Ballard said. “If I’m doing good, I want all my teammates to do well, too. I feed off them.”
Like father …
Fourteen years ago, Vick Terry was in a motorcycle accident. He hit a tree and broke both bones in his left arm in several places. He still has two steel rods beneath a very prominent scar.
It was not a life-threatening accident, but as a man who works with his hands, it was something Terry had to overcome. There have been other things Terry’s had to fight through during his 41 years, although when asked he says he can’t recall many specifics.
One thing he had to deal with was the relative obscurity in which his son played football. Scouts weren’t knocking down Ballard’s door, and that angered Terry.
The more he’s watched Ballard fight his way into the spotlight, the more Terry sees himself in his son.
“I never let anything beat me,” Terry said, “and that’s the way he is.”