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July 27, 2011In 2009 he was an All-American. In 2010 he set a school record for touchdowns scored. Fast forward to 2011 and he was one of three people chosen to represent Mississippi State at SEC Media Days. In just over a month, he will be a starter on a team some believe could challenge for the SEC West crown.
However, he still gets overlooked.
Running back Vick Ballard didn't have any offers coming out of high school to attend schools in any of the Big Six conferences. The Magnolia State native's best offer was Southern Miss. He ended up going to junior college, hoping to raise his profile and find his way onto a top team after two years.
As a sophomore at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Ballard was a JUCO All-American. Yet, he only got one big offer. What more could he do? So, he took that one offer and now he is at MSU.
"I think Vick plays with a chip on his shoulder," said State head coach Dan Mullen. "That he wants to go out there and prove everybody wrong, that 'I should have been recruited out of high school, I should have been more heavily recruited out of junior college.' You could see that day one when he walked on our campus, that he had that 'it' factor about him, that whatever he's going to do, he's going to be successful."
Ballard did get an inkling of recognition over the summer, being named to a couple-or-three preseason watch lists. He was also a nominee for the media's preseason All-SEC team. He didn't win, of course.
Ballard said it's nice to be mentioned, but he doesn't like the attention.
"I'm self-motivated," Ballard said. "When you have a lot of people talking to you it's hard to stay humble. I try not to let it get to me."
He also said he isn't a big fan of picking the top running backs in the conference.
"We're pretty stacked in the SEC," he said. "I think some of us do better things than other ones. I don't think you can just rank us as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. You gotta look at what aspect of their game you're looking at."
One thing Ballard is certainly good at is scoring. He rushed for 19 touchdowns in 2010 and also scored one receiving, a total of 20. With that, he led the SEC running backs in points per game.
So, if you break down the backs by their game as Ballard recommends, is he the best back in the SEC at scoring touchdowns?
"Numbers don't lie," Ballard said with a smile.
Alabama's Trent Richardson and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore were the two running backs named All-SEC by the media.
Ballard wouldn't try to rank himself or any of the other running backs, but he did mention Richardson by name.
"The one running back I like watching is Trent Richardson because he's real powerful," Ballard said. "That's the one aspect I want to improve on."
As Mullen would tell it, Ballard may have much to improve on and nothing to improve on at the same time.
"When you turn on the film and you watch, he's not the fastest player out there, he's not the most dynamic mover, he's not a monster big back," Mullen said. "He's just a great football player."
Mullen said that while Ballard's tape in junior college was good, it was his coaches that sold him to Mullen and MSU.
"The coaches, we look at all those talented guys on the roster, all these guys being recruited, they would always talk about Vick Ballard, their coaching staff would, that he's the one that makes it go," Mullen said. "That is something that catches my attention."
Looking ahead, Ballard is excited for his senior season in 2011. He mentioned often in 2010 that he is a "rhythm back" who needs more carries to reach his full potential. He would occasionally bemoan the lack of touches early in 2010, believing that he had the ability to be the feature back.
"Most definitely. The first three games last year I maybe had like 15 carries in all," Ballard said. "It didn't make me mad, I just knew that I was a rhythm guy. I need a couple carries to get myself going. The first game I had, I had 20 carries against Florida. Every game after that I felt myself getting better and better, adjusting to the speed of the game."
Now, entering the 2011 season, he is the unquestioned starter in the backfield. However, he does have a youngster hot on his tail. Sophomore LaDarius Perkins, a small, speedy back, built like a cannon-ball his teammates say, emerged late in 2010 as a freshman. Ballard welcomes that, though, and says Perkins is an impressive player.
"He pushes me every day," Ballard said. "He's real fast and he's real strong for his size. Upper body, our max is about the same."
Whether it's his own teammate, running backs across the SEC or schools who turned him down, Ballard doesn't mind the competition. In fact, he appears to thrive on it.
"It's all motivation to work better," Ballard said. "When you get complacent, that's when you start getting worse."
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