University of Wisconsin running back Montee Ball knows he shocked a lot of people with his decision to return for his senior season.
"Obviously, I'm taking a pretty huge gamble right here," Ball admitted Thursday as he announced his decision in an afternoon news conference.
Ball was unhappy with the evaluation he got from the NFL, which projected him to go in the third round. He was told he could possibly move into the second round with a strong showing at the scouting combine.
He feels strongly he can improve his draft status, while also becoming a better player next season.
"When they came back and said, 'Third round,' I was really disappointed," he said. "I do believe I'm better than the third round. Once I saw that, I kind of was leaning more toward coming back, for my (teammates) and also myself.
"I'm really looking forward to bettering my stock and preparing even harder in the offseason."
The arguments against Ball coming back were twofold:
• It will be hard for him to improve on a season in which he was a consensus All-American, a Heisman Trophy finalist and rushed for 1,923 yards, the seventh-best total in Big Ten Conference history;
• Since running backs have notoriously short NFL careers and a limited number of carries in their bodies, conventional wisdom suggests not wasting those carries at the college level.
"Obviously, there is some negative feedback: 'Why would he stay? He can't better his stats. He can't better what he did this year,'" Ball said.
"What I want to say to those people is, you don't know what I'm capable of doing. You have no idea what I can and cannot do for next season. Just sit back, relax and enjoy another great season."
Ball told the running backs of his decision on Saturday, then told the entire team in the locker room immediately following the 45-38 loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
He considered the risk of getting injured, but dismissed it. "I could have had a career-ending injury in the Rose Bowl game," he said.
The improvement Ball showed after last season gives him confidence he can make another jump before next season.
He dropped about 25 pounds going into the spring, down to 205, and ended up having one of the best seasons ever by a UW running back. He finished with 2,229 all-purpose yards, second-best in UW history behind Ron Dayne's 2,242 yards in 1996.
NFL scouts want him to gain about 10 pounds, up to 215, and he will devote himself in the offseason to doing that — while improving his speed.
"I'll be able to shed a lot more tackles," he said. "I believe I'll be a lot stronger, a lot faster."
UW coach Bret Bielema did not attend the news conference because he was on the road recruiting, but said in a statement: "He made tremendous strides both on and off the field during the offseason a year ago and I expect him to work just as hard this year. I know he wants to improve not only to make himself a better player but also to help his teammates pursue a third straight Big Ten title."
Ball also is excited about being one of the leaders on the team. He told his parents on the way to the news conference how much he looks forward to possibly being elected a captain next season.
As for the departure of offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and offensive line coach Bob Bostad, who are both going to Pittsburgh, Ball put his faith in Bielema.
"It's his job, obviously, to keep this program where it's at right now," Ball said. "I believe he will find coaches that are just as good or even better than the coaches we had."
He also said he promised his parents he would graduate and he is on track to do that. When he signed with UW, he talked about the great tradition of running backs at the school. Now he has a chance to put his name up with the best of them.
"These four years I'll be here, I want to make sure I put a huge stamp on this university," he said.
No pressure put on Konz
Ball said he did not try to influence the decision of junior center Peter Konz, who also is considering the NFL. A UW source said Wednesday that Konz is leaning toward leaving and Ball made it sound as if a decision has been made.
"This is a very tough decision for a 20-, 21-, 22-year old," Ball said. "I didn't want to influence him, make him lean to one or the other side. I believe he made the right decision."
Jay Norvell, considered to be a candidate for UW's vacant offensive coordinator job, is staying at Oklahoma, according to multiple reports.
Norvell, a Madison native and former UW assistant, is a co-coordinator on offense and coaches receivers for the Sooners. He interviewed with Bielema on Wednesday.