Running back Montee Ball’s football career has followed a familiar pattern.
Something happens that causes people to doubt Ball, only to have him respond by blowing away any last shred of doubt.
It played out again that way on Wednesday during the University of Wisconsin football team’s pro day inside the McClain Center.
After running the 40-yard dash in 4.66 seconds at the scouting combine in Indianapolis less than two weeks earlier, Ball was hearing plenty of doubts about his speed.
But he answered those with a best time of 4.46 while running on his home turf in front of representatives from 30 of the 32 NFL teams — including Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson and two of his scouts.
“I was very excited, because I knew I was capable of getting under a 4.5, but 4.46?” Ball said. “I’m very proud of myself. I’m just happy.”
Ball, who set an NCAA record with 83 career touchdowns and rushed for 5,140 yards for the Badgers, was asked how he was able to shave two-tenths of a second off his 40 time.
He revealed that he had a sinus infection at the combine in Indianapolis and was taking medication for it. The combine 40 also came near the end of a lengthy testing process that Ball said left him feeling fatigued.
“I think a lot plays into running (the 40) at Indy,” he said. “You’re a little tired, because of the waking up early stuff and doctors poking at you and pulling at you. Then, the last day, they want you to get out there and run.
“It’s kind of the process they do. They want to see if you can work under pressure.”
Yet Ball refused to criticize a process that seemed to erase all of the numbers he put up at UW in favor of a single number from the combine.
“They’ve got to evaluate all of these players somehow, if you think about it that way,” he said. “So you’ve just got to step up to the plate and do what’s expected. That’s how the NFL is.”
Ball’s official time for his first 40 was 4.49. He ran the 4.46 on his second one. After a player runs, the scouts get together and compare times, to come up with an official one. Ball said the highest time for him was 4.53, but the majority were between 4.46 and 4.49.
Only the lowest time sticks with a player and becomes his official time going into the NFL draft, April 25-27.
“Really, what I wanted to show them (is that) my weaknesses, I’m going to keep working on,” Ball said. “My weakness has always been top-end speed. Hopefully, I showed today I’ve been working on that.”
Ball worked to improve his starts with John Dettmann, who oversees the strength and conditioning staff, and former Badger Jamil Walker, an assistant on the strength staff.
“Just doing the 10-yard starts,” Ball said. “The first 10 yards is the whole 40, really.”
Ball is used to having to overcome doubters and has thrived in those situations during his career.
As a redshirt sophomore in 2010, he was the third-string tailback and famously did not see the field for the Ohio State game. He bounced back from that to take over the starting job and lead the Badgers to the first of three straight Rose Bowls.
After being a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011, he made the controversial decision to return for his senior year. After suffering a concussion when he was attacked on campus prior to preseason camp, he got off to a slow start last season, but still won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top back after rushing for 1,830 yards as a senior.
“I’m used to it,” Ball said of proving people wrong. “It kind of shows people what kind of character I have and how much I’m willing to fight and keep improving myself.”
While the 40 is where Ball made his money, he had a strong overall performance.
He improved his time in the short shuttle to 4.11 seconds after running 4.40 at the combine, and also caught the ball well in drills.
“Hopefully, I did everything right today,” he said. “I think I did. It’s a huge relief.”
Whether that’s enough to push Ball back to the fringes of the first round remains to be seen. He said the feedback from Thompson and the scouts was positive.
When asked if the Packers might be interested, he said, “I think they are, because you hear whispers they’re looking for a three-down back. Hopefully, I’ve shown them in my four years of college and today.”
Ball said he used to dream about being drafted in the first round, but the closer the draft gets, the less of a priority that becomes.
“I would love to go in the first round, but I just want to get drafted,” he said.
Ball said he has faced questions about his speed his entire career and hopes this finally puts an end to them.
“My whole life, people have been saying I’m not fast enough,” he said. “They said I wouldn’t be a great college running back because of my speed. I think I’ve proved them wrong there and I plan on doing the same thing in the NFL.”