Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 12/31/12
LOS ANGELES Montee Ball wore a wreath adorned with shiny ornaments as he stood near Sleeping Beauty's castle and Mickey Mouse. In the land of make believe, the emotions inside Ball were very real. He stared into the rows of fans and back at his Wisconsin teammates, trying to savor the precious moments that remained of his college football career, including this trip to Disneyland that began a week's worth of festivities before the Rose Bowl. There were times this season Ball wasn't sure he or the Badgers would make it back for a third straight visit. So he basked in sunshine and smiled for cameras, especially appreciative of the opportunity, understanding the finality of the moment. "You try not to think about it, but sometimes it's kind of hard," Ball said this week. "At Disneyland, Melvin Gordon was like, 'Let's start recording each other because this is it.' I'm going to miss these guys a lot." It's safe to say the Badgers will miss him just as much. Ball, the senior running back, will close one of the most productive careers in college football history Tuesday when Wisconsin (8-5) plays No. 6 Stanford (11-2) in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. He is a former Heisman Trophy finalist, a Doak Walker award winner for nation's best running back, a two-time consensus All-American and the all-time FBS touchdown leader. He also has one more opportunity to showcase his skills in a Badgers uniform in a venue that holds special importance to him. It was in Pasadena last Jan. 2 that Ball, standing in a downtrodden locker room following his team's 45-38 loss to Oregon, declared to teammates that he would return for his senior season rather than enter the NFL draft. "Probably the whole team was surprised when he came back," said Badgers running back James White, Ball's roommate and good friend. "At the same time, when he said it, we knew we were going to have another great running back coming back. It only made our offense that much more explosive." Many presumed Ball would make a return trip to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist this year, but his season began in stunning fashion when he was assaulted by five men in downtown Madison days before fall camp started. Ball sustained a concussion, missed much of preseason practice and played below his usually standout level upon returning. Through four games, he had rushed for 360 yards and just three touchdowns. Despite the slow start, Ball's belief in himself didn't waver, and he maintained his role as one of the team's most important leaders. Over the final eight regular-season games and the Big Ten championship, Ball rushed for 1,370 yards with 18 touchdowns. "The touchdowns are big, but just how much he went through is most impressive," said Gordon, a freshman running back. "How mentally tough he is. The things that happened this summer with him getting jumped, coming back and performing as well as he did. The will. The leadership he has to get this team through whatever. He persevered." Stanford coach David Shaw spoke briefly with Ball during last year's Heisman Trophy ceremony to congratulate him on his accomplishments. He has followed Ball's season from afar and been dazzled by what he has seen. "He's got great vision, great balance," Shaw said. "He waits for the blocks to happen and then he explodes. He doesn't turn the ball over. He doesn't sacrifice the good play to try to make the big play. He makes the plays he's supposed to make and then makes more." In an era when star athletes can become selfish and worry only about their own statistics, Ball has done the opposite. He has rushed for 5,040 career yards and scored an FBS-record 82 touchdowns, but asking him to name his proudest moment yields a surprising answer. He cites his ability to overcome not playing against No. 1 Ohio State two seasons ago, when coaches deemed him not good enough to earn a carry. One week later, he scored the game-winning touchdown against Iowa and became the team's top running back for the next 33 games. Ball has used his friendships with teammates to fuel him during difficult times. He has grown especially close with fellow running backs White and Gordon, three inseparable musketeers on the road together. Gordon, like Ball, is trying to spend as much time with his friend as possible. "It's been great," Gordon said. "It's been nothing but happiness, fun and laughter. We're trying to live it up. We know we've got a couple days with him now. We're taking pictures every second. We're all out together with me, him and James. "We know he's in the business world after this and he probably won't have much time to hit us up because he'll be doing work himself, trying to get better for the league." Before Ball begins preparation for the NFL, he has one last order of business to finally win a Rose Bowl in his third try. Ball also needs 150 yards rushing against Stanford to tie former Wisconsin great Ron Dayne for the all-time career rushing record in Rose Bowl games. While Ball has spent part of the week waxing nostalgic, he continues to look ahead. There is, after all, a time to savor the moments and a time to create new ones. "I've thought about everything that I've accomplished, and every time I think about that, one thing that sticks out to me is I have yet to win a Rose Bowl," Ball said. "I think in a way it's motivated me to practice harder and study film longer because I do want to win this game. "I don't want to be remembered as the player who did this but lost three Rose Bowl games. I want to be remembered as a player who did all this and won his last Rose Bowl game." Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
Best athlete by state all time
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Arizona's Allonzo Trier cleared to play after drug test comes back negative

Rodgers dealing with sickness ahead of NFC Championship Game

Russell Westbrook responds to All-Star snub

Report: Knicks, Melo to part ways by next season

Report: Pau Gasol out up to six weeks after hand surgery

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Adam Jones to serve as penalty box attendant for minor league hockey team

Report: Paxton Lynch to be given chance to win Broncos’ job

Patriots have a magician perform tricks for players every Friday?

Indiana's OG Anunoby needs knee surgery, out for remainder of season

Tom Brady refuses to discuss Donald Trump: ‘Let’s talk about football stuff’

Report: 49ers could target Kirk Cousins in trade that includes No. 2 overall pick

Best of Yardbarker: Roger Goodell does what we all expected him to do

Eat, Drink, Watch for Jan. 20-22, 2017: Dips, rye, football and Death Race 2050

Box Score 1/20: 37 years ago today, Carter said no to Moscow

NFC & AFC Championship preview: We love scoring

Roger Goodell is a coward, but then we knew that

TailGreater: Picking the conference champions by their signature cocktails

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

The NFC Championship’s two most important players

Eight bold predictions for second half of NBA season

Box Score 1/19: Happy anniversary to the 'Tuck Rule' game

Clarification Please: Why college basketball needs to ditch the possession arrow

NBA hotline bling: Derrick Rose gets disconnected

College Football News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Best of Yardbarker: Roger Goodell does what we all expected him to do

Eat, Drink, Watch for Jan. 20-22, 2017: Dips, rye, football and Death Race 2050

QUIZ: Name the owners of these 50 famous NFL nicknames

NFC & AFC Championship preview: We love scoring

Roger Goodell is a coward, but then we knew that

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

TailGreater: Picking the conference champions by their signature cocktails

The 'What's a Romo worth these days anyway?' quiz

Clarification Please: Why college basketball needs to ditch the possession arrow

NBA hotline bling: Derrick Rose gets disconnected

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker