University of Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball did not vote for himself to be a team captain, even though it was allowed.
For a while, as the captains were being announced to the team on Tuesday night, Ball had to briefly wonder if many of his teammates voted for him, either.
Ball was the last of the six captains announced, right after senior offensive tackle Ricky Wagner. The other four captains are two seniors, linebacker Mike Taylor and free safety Shelton Johnson, and two juniors, linebacker Chris Borland and center Travis Frederick.
UW has named more than five season-long captains just three times before, so when Wagner was named as the fifth, Ball thought the roll call was over.
“I thought it was the last captain called,” Ball said on Wednesday. “I was a little bummed. Then (UW coach Bret Bielema) said another name and I was a little shocked.”
He shouldn’t have been. Despite two highly publicized off-field incidents during the offseason, Ball’s teammates have constantly pledged their unwavering support for him. They backed it up with their votes, too.
“I thought Montee would be a captain,” Borland said. “He deserves it. The way he’s worked, the way he conducts himself, he’s definitely a leader on this team.”
Ball never doubted his teammates backed him, despite the incidents, which included getting a ticket for trespassing during the Mifflin Street Block Party in the spring and being assaulted by five men while walking home to his apartment at 2:15 a.m. on Aug. 1.
“I honestly do believe everyone understands the situation,” Ball said. “I don’t go out causing trouble. I didn’t go out, saying, ‘Let’s do this today, let me get a trespassing ticket, let me get jumped today.’
“That’s why I love this team. That’s why I call them my family and I’m really glad that I came back, because they all understand situations and are mature enough to let them go and continue on our success.”
The six captains featured a nice mixture. Two are offensive linemen and UW coaches like to say the team is in good hands when the leaders come from the offensive line.
“I think the offensive line, because we make up (nearly) half of the (starting) offense, generally leads that group a lot,” Frederick said. “Especially with what we do here as far as running the ball and pounding it out.
“I think it just came from what we did over the summer. As an offensive line, we came together and grew as a group.”
A couple of the captains are quiet by nature, especially Wagner and Taylor. Both are attempting to be more vocal this season.
“I think it’s something I have to improve if I’m going to be a good captain,” Wagner said.
While Wagner and Taylor tend to lead with their actions, when they speak up, it can have more of an impact.
“When they speak up, it’s because something is really important,” Borland said. “They say it with conviction and guys believe in them.”
The only other junior to be elected as a season-long captain in Bielema’s seven years was linebacker Jonathan Casillas in 2007. This team has just nine seniors, so it figured some members of a strong junior class would carry bigger leadership roles.
“They are two juniors with a lot of experience,” Wagner said of Frederick and Borland, “so I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all.”
More than 20 players received votes. It tied the 2010 team, which also had six full-time captains, as the most under Bielema.
“Everyone brings their own thing to the table,” Frederick said. “That definitely shows a good variety of what the team is, and I think it’ll help when it comes to making decisions.”
But Bielema also pointed out to the team that the captains share some common traits.
“Coach Bielema made the statement, we’re all the same person. We’re consistent people that have the same attitude,” Wagner said. “I think that makes a good captain.”
Each player was allowed to vote for two players on the same side of the ball, and one on the opposite side. Ball said he voted for Frederick, junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and Taylor. Ball didn’t give much of a reason for not voting for himself, other than to say he thought the other players deserved it.
But that is not a sign Ball didn’t want the honor. He was outspoken in his desire to be a captain and it was a major factor in his decision to return for his senior year.
“It’s a huge deal,” he said. “I don’t think it’s soaked in yet because everything is flying by with camp. Once it does, it’s going to sink in pretty deep. You’re a captain forever. I’ll always be (a) 2012 senior captain on this team. It’s an honor.”