WISCONSIN DELLS — By almost every account, University of Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball was better than ever during the team's spring practices.
Running backs coach Thomas Hammock summed up the sentiment of most observers who watched Ball tear through the defense on a regular basis.
"When coach Hammock took me to the side, he told me, this spring, it was so easy for me, just to read the defenses and just run right through them," Ball said on Wednesday during the Badger Day event at the Kalahari Resort. "I was reading the holes. I had the game in my hands, is what he said."
Then, in an instant, Ball learned how quickly it could all be taken away from him.
One week after Ball was held out of the spring game — against his own wishes — as a precaution, he was cited for trespassing during the Mifflin Street block party.
Video was taken of Ball, in handcuffs, being led away by police. It was the first time Ball had ever been handcuffed and not the image the program wanted for its most prominent player.
It was also the first time Ball realized how much his celebrity status had changed since a breakout junior season in which he was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
"It was a complete eye-opener," Ball said in his first public comments since the May 5 citation. "It was way blown out of proportion. That's what happens with players who are high profile. It's something I've got to get used to."
When asked if he ever before had gotten a lesson in how fame had changed his life, he said, "That was the first time. It was very shocking. It's a blessing in disguise."
Ball received a fine of $429 for failure to immediately leave a porch after the resident of the house attempted to get people to leave. That apparently included Ball and a companion.
"Honestly, it was very unfortunate," Ball said. "I was literally at the wrong place at the wrong time. The owner wanted everyone off her property and I was there for like two minutes. She wanted us two off (the porch) for some reason.
"What I need to understand is that everyone is looking at me — and looking at every other player on this team. So, I just have to make sure I just keep myself away from the normal students, I guess you want to say, on the campus. I can't do what they do."
UW coach Bret Bielema used the incident as a lesson for his entire team.
"I think the fact that in today's world, the scrutiny that everybody gets," Bielema said of his message to players. "Obviously, when it's all laid out in front of (Ball), it's not really anything other than him being on a porch when someone was asking him to get off.
"I think that whole environment was a learning (experience) for all of our guys this year, especially, Montee. When you're a guy who's up for the Heisman trophy, everything you do is going to be scrutinized."
Bielema talks to his players beforehand about the Mifflin party, but does not try to prevent them from attending. He was especially concerned this year in light of the 2011 party, which included two stabbings, three sexual assaults and other violence.
"I was very concerned because a year ago, the violence was kind of random," Bielema said. "That's the stuff I'm always very cautious of."
But Bielema believes in educating his players about consequences instead of simply making more rules.
"I'm not that guy," he said of trying to ban players from the event. "I don't usually try to do it. I think a team that has more rules, you have guys that are trying to find ways to get around them. ...
"I don't ban Twitter. I try to emphasize the effect those things have, how bad you can look and how stupid you can look in a short amount of time."
Ball was one of about 500 people at the party who received tickets in what appeared to be an attempt by Madison Police to discourage future participation in the event.
"What we kind of learned retrospectively, they had tripled the amount of police down there," Bielema said. "They were out to get anybody, in anything, in any way, shape or form. Obviously, they did that.
"Of course, they're trying to cancel it. Next year will be a good learning experience to reference this year's learning experience."
This appears to be just a minor blemish on what previously had been a squeaky clean image for Ball. The hardest part of the ordeal, he said, was letting down his parents.
"My parents were very disappointed in me, just for going in the first place," Ball said. "That's my fault for going, I shouldn't have went."
Ball, who is expected to be voted a captain for the upcoming season, talked to the team and apologized for his actions.
"A lot of us have been in situations like that," junior center Travis Frederick said. "Just because he's Montee Ball and a Heisman Trophy finalist, that's why it gets out to the media. You kind of feel for him a little bit."
Ball compared it to getting a speeding ticket and said he has already put it behind him. The lesson he takes from the incident will probably be worth the fine he paid in the long run.
"There was so many emotions going on in my mind," he said of getting handcuffed. "Because it wasn't necessary, at all. But it happened, it's behind me. Hopefully, everyone forgets about it. It's a trespassing ticket."
Budmayr out for year
Junior quarterback Jon Budmayr is one of three players who will miss the upcoming season due to injuries. Bielema had said it was going to take something miraculous for Budmayr to play in the fall.
Even though the nerve problem in Budmayr's throwing elbow has shown improvement, he is also facing potential hip surgery.
"The chances of him being involved (this season) are slim to none," Bielema said.
Incoming freshman quarterback Bart Houston was initially expected to miss the start of fall camp after recent surgery to remove a cyst in his throwing shoulder. Bielema said Houston had a recent appointment with doctors and "everything was ahead of schedule."
But the plan now is Houston will not resume throwing until next spring.
Also, freshman cornerback Hugs Etienne will undergo shoulder surgery soon that will sideline him for the season. Etienne enrolled early in January and suffered a shoulder injury in the spring. But Bielema said the surgery had to do with a prexisting condition and Etienne would be redshirted, which was the plan all along.