University of Wisconsin running back Montee Ball suffered a concussion and facial injuries after five men jumped him early Wednesday in an area near campus that has been plagued by violence. Police are investigating whether the Heisman Trophy contender was targeted because of who he is.
Ball suffered blows to the head and is being treated by the UW sports medicine staff, according to the UW Athletic Department. He was treated and released from a local hospital after the attack, which occurred about 2:15 a.m. in the 500 block of University Avenue.
"We will continue to evaluate him as we approach the start of fall camp this weekend," UW coach Bret Bielema said in a statement. "I do expect Montee to make a full recovery."
The Badgers report for preseason camp on Sunday and begin practice on Monday. UW's season opener is Sept. 1 against Northern Iowa at Camp Randall Stadium.
Efforts to contact Ball or his family Wednesday were unsuccessful. But on his Twitter account, Ball wrote: "I appreciate the support and thank you for the concerns. I will be OK! See you guys in September!"
The senior is considered to be one of the top preseason Heisman Trophy contenders in the nation. UW coaches raved about the work he put in during the summer, and Ball tweeted on Tuesday, "You have no idea how ready I am for this fall."
Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Ball had been socializing with friends Downtown and was walking home just behind two friends when he was jumped, knocked to the ground and kicked in the head and torso.
DeSpain said it does not appear Ball knew his attackers, and police are investigating the incident as an "unprovoked assault." However, based on statements from witnesses, police will be investigating whether Ball was attacked because of his high profile, DeSpain said, adding that it did not appear to be a robbery.
Police will be reviewing surveillance video from cameras in the area and are hoping additional witnesses will come forward with more details to help identify the assailants, who were last seen running south on North Frances Street toward the Kohl Center, DeSpain said. Detailed descriptions of the suspects were not available.
"This is the type of crime that we have been concerned about occurring in that general area," he said.
Last weekend, police put extra officers in the area around the 600 block of University Avenue, which has been the scene of a shooting that injured at least three people, stabbings, robberies and fights in recent months.
While the additional resources have been focused on weekends, when most problems occur, DeSpain said police will look at whether extra officers should be added during the week.
The increased police presence came after a sergeant had to use pepper spray after several fights broke out in a crowd early July 22 near the corner of University Avenue and North Frances Street.
In a statement, university officials said the crowds "are generally not believed to be made up of UW-Madison students" and urged students to use caution in the stretch of University Avenue where the violence has occurred.
"Take care of yourself and your friends when you're out late at night in this area," Dean of Students Lori Berquam said in the statement.
University police are working with Madison police to increase patrols in the area late at night, and UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas said more efforts at warning of the dangers will be made later this month when most students return for fall classes.
It has already been a difficult offseason for Ball.
One week after UW's spring game, he was cited for trespassing during the Mifflin Street Block Party for failing to leave a porch after he was apparently asked by the resident of the house. A madison.com video showed police leading Ball away in handcuffs.