It's July, which means it's basically football season, right? Well, we're certainly close. With that in mind, the BulldogBlitz.com Senior Spotlight continues today. Every day, until there are none left, we will profile one of Mississippi State's seniors entering their last year in Starkville.
How did he get here? A Pascagoula, Miss., native, Ballard signed with Jackson State out of high school but he ended up enrolling at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He averaged over six yards per carry as a freshman, racking up 555 yards and 12 touchdowns at MGCCC. He then burst onto the scene as a sophomore rushing for 1,728 yards and 22 touchdowns, averaging 144 yards per game. He was named a Junior College All-American and chose to sign with Dan Mullen and Mississippi State, noting the available spots on the roster after the graduation of Anthony Dixon, Christian Ducre and Arnil Stallworth.
What did he do in 2010? Just as he burst onto the JUCO scene, Ballard immediately stepped in as MSU's starter in the backfield and led the team in rushing in 2010. Ballard often mentioned that he is a "rhythm" back who improves as he gets more and more carries. That appeared to be the truth when he rushed a career-high 33 times for 150 yards and three touchdowns against Arkansas in November. Ballard set a single-season school record with 20 touchdowns, 19 of which came on the ground. He totaled 968 yards with an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
What does he need to do in 2011? Ballard has very little he needs to improve on and a simple repeat of 2010 would be a more than adequate end to his college career, though he undoubtedly wants more. Ballard will be the feature back as quarterback Chris Relf hopes to throw more and pass less. Ballard has been named to some preseason watch lists for national awards given to offensive players and running backs and passing the 1,000 yard mark in rushing yards would help his national profile. A jumbled backfield at the beginning of 2010 and a short injury in midseason kept Ballard from getting the rhythm he so desires, so more consistent snaps may aid him in 2011.
Coach's quote: Greg Knox, running backs coach: "Vick was more relaxed this spring as far as knowing what he was doing. We also saw a more confident Ballard. He knew how to do things and when to do it. We also saw his leadership role. When you have more knowledge and confidence then that is when the leadership starts to show.
"Plus, we as a staff are now more confident. Unlike last spring, we know we have a guy that can tote the load and give us everything he has. And the team knows when Vick comes to work he is going to give all he has."