Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 8/6/12
MADISON, Wis. Montee Ball emerged from a training room tucked inside the bowels of Camp Randall Stadium on Monday afternoon wearing his customary No. 28 red University of Wisconsin football jersey. But just as quickly as he appeared, Ball vanished from view into solitude. On a day in which the Badgers began their first fall practice of the season, Ball, the team's marquee player and a Heisman Trophy candidate, was nowhere to be seen. The star running back has yet to be cleared to practice as he recovers from a concussion sustained when five men attacked him last week in an early morning incident near campus. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said Monday after practice that Ball likely won't return to the field for full-contact drills for two more weeks. He does anticipate Ball being ready in time for Wisconsin's season opener against Northern Iowa on Sept. 1. "We're taking it extremely slow," Bielema said. "We should have him there for all the game week preparation, which is where I think I'd have to be to play him in that opener. It sounds like everything is going to happen full speed ahead." According to the police report, witnesses said five men attacked Ball while he was walking in the 500 block of University Avenue at 2:15 a.m. CT on Wednesday morning. Ball, who had been socializing with friends downtown, was "knocked to the ground and kicked" and taken to a hospital with head injuries, the report said. Detectives investigating Ball's assault believe it may have stemmed from a fight that occurred late on July 27 and into the morning of July 28. That altercation involved Wisconsin students, including members of the football team, according to a police statement. Police say Ball was present, but Ball has denied any involvement in the fight. Bielema said he met with Ball after his release from the hospital and believed Ball's story. "I just assured him that he needed to sit here and tell me exactly what happened," Bielema said. "If I found out that there was any indication he was involved in it, he'd be handled just like anybody else." Bielema cited his discipline of previous star players as an example that Ball would be treated no differently. In 2009, Bielema suspended starting safeties Aubrey Pleasant and Shane Carter for the season for disciplinary reasons. "I told the team last night, 'If anybody has an indication of what I will or will not do, go back on my personal record when I threw our two starting safeties off the program for some things that I felt very strongly about and didn't blink an eye,'" Bielema said. "I don't have any problem saying that." Though Ball hasn't spoken publicly since the attack, he twice has taken to his Twitter account to refute reports by the celebrity gossip and entertainment news outlet TMZ that alleged Ball was involved in the July 27 fight. On Aug. 3, Ball tweeted: "With success, will come many haters And completely fabricated stories!! I will stick to what I've been doing since day 1" Bielema said he didn't have a problem with Ball defending himself on Twitter. "You're dealing with a young man who's got a lot of things on his plate that feels very strongly that he didn't have any involvement," Bielema said. "I don't think anybody should quote TMZ as a news source right now from what I've seen. I do think that Montee feels very strongly he wasn't involved in any way, shape or form. He's never given me an indication to think otherwise." This marks the second off-the-field incident involving Ball since he announced in January that he would return for his senior season. In May, he was arrested for trespassing after refusing to leave the porch of an apartment during the annual Mifflin Street Block Party. It was not an alcohol-related issue, and Ball was fined 429. Bielema didn't specifically answer whether Ball's troubles were a result of bad luck or bad judgment. "My guess is of all the seniors at the University of Wisconsin, there's been a few that have been in a bar after two o'clock," Bielema said. "Obviously no one draws the attention that Montee Ball draws. That's part of what he probably realizes now as much as he tried to realize it before. Now it's how much potential hate can be driven toward him in a short amount of time by so many people. That's a big part." Last season, Ball was a Heisman Trophy finalist when he rushed for 1,923 yards with 33 touchdowns and tied the FBS single-season record with 39 total touchdowns scored. Bielema said he didn't think Ball had jeopardized his standing with the Heisman Trophy committee as he prepares for his senior season. "I think in the end if there was proof or if there was anything that comes out that he was involved, it absolutely, positively would," Bielema said. "I'm fairly confident the young man that I've known the last seven years of my life is a guy that's been pretty straightforward." Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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