In today's Journal I have a feature on Mississippi State senior tailback Vick Ballard, who has played under the radar his whole career. Until now.
He's finally getting the recognition he's been seeking, and he's got a chance this season to garner even more. Ballard has certainly made Dan Mullen look smart, and Mullen prides himself on finding less-hyped prospects and turning them into big-time players.
And Ballard is big time. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season while scoring 20 touchdowns, 19 of those on the ground. He was a preseason third-team All-SEC pick by the coaches, but the media left him off its preseason squad. So Ballard still feels there's some respect to be gained.
"It's kind of up and down, because some people give you respect, but some people are still kind of iffy about you," he said. "It's all part of the game, so it don't bother me."
Not much seems to bother the low-key Ballard. He just works hard, carries the ball, and finds the end zone. He's always looking forward to the next challenge, which is why he decided not to play for Jackson State after signing there out of Pascagoula High School.
As recounted in my story, Ballard's father, Vick Terry, was wary of that move. But Ballard had his reasons.
"Nothing against Jackson State, but I didn't really want to go there. I took a visit there. I couldn't see myself, though. It didn't feel like home."
Ballard decided on Gulf Coast Community College, a place that's churned out some awfully good players. He finally told his dad about the change of heart about a week before having to report to GCCC.
"I felt that I was always better than what I was offered," Ballard said. "That's one reason I chose the juco route, to test myself."
Obviously, it's worked out well for Ballard, and for MSU, which was the only SEC school to offer him a scholarship. And it can't be overstated how huge Ballard was for State last season, seeing as the loss of career rushing leader Anthony Dixon was one of the offense's biggest question marks heading into the fall.
Dixon, now with the San Francisco 49ers, has watched Ballard and likes what he sees.
"He's a hard runner, he works hard," Dixon said. "That's what I like about him. He's old-school. He don't got as much style as I've got. I told him he's got to get his swag up."
I don't think that's Ballard's style, but given his proclivity for finding the end zone, he should have ample opportunity to work on his swag.
Football runs in the Ballard family. His dad played in high school, and uncle Walter Ballard played at UTEP and in the Canadian Football League. Vick Ballard said his grandmother always had trading cards of his uncle, "and I used to look at them all the time. It inspired me."
Dixon thinks Ballard can play in the NFL. Terry just hopes he doesn't follow in his footsteps – he's been a welder for 21 years.
"He took welding for two years in school," Terry said. "I don't want him to fall back into that. I don't want any of my kids in that shipyard, at all."
What's great for MSU is that even though Ballard could probably handle a workhorse load, Mullen doesn't really need that from him. While I suspect QB Chris Relf won't be asked to run quite as much as he did last season (14.9 carries per game), he'll still use his legs, and there are other options like LaDarius Perkins, plus Chad Bumphis (and perhaps others) out of the wildcat formation.
Ballard scored a TD for every 9.8 touches (rushes and receptions) last season. He knows how to make the most of his opportunities, just one of many qualities most college coaches seemed to overlook.