MADISON (AP) - Wisconsin running back Montee Ball is coming back for his senior season.
Ball told reporters that NFL evaluators informed him he would likely be a third-round draft pick and he thinks he can improve his stock. He acknowledged he's taking a huge gamble that he will make it through his senior season without a serious injury or a drop-off in his statistics.
"I'm just listening to my heart," Ball said Thursday. "I know for a fact I will come into this season better. No one knows what we're capable of this season but I know I made the right
He called the decision to stay in school the hardest of his life.
He said he weighed everything, including injuries, his draft spot, another run at the Heisman Trophy - he was a finalist this season - and a promise he made to his parents to finish his degree.
He said he's not worried about an NFL payday and wants to make a permanent stamp on Wisconsin football.
"Maybe I'm not ready to leave all this behind," Ball said. "Right now my heart lies with the Badger family more than the NFL."
Ball will be hard-pressed to improve on his junior year.
He scored 39 touchdowns this season, tying Barry Sanders' NCAA record. He finished the year with 1,923 yards rushing and 2,229 all-purpose yards, second in Wisconsin history only to Ron Dayne's 2,242 yards in 1996. He rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown in the Badgers' 45-38 loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Ball said he told underclassmen in the locker room moments after the loss that he was looking forward to coming back and leading them as a senior, an announcement his teammates greeted with applause. The Badgers will be without quarterback Russell Wilson, who set the NCAA record for single-season pass efficiency rating and became the first Wisconsin quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 yards in a season.
That could mean more carries for Ball, who said he plans to hit the weights hard over the offseason. NFL evaluators told him he needs to add about 10 pounds to his 206-pound frame, and he thinks the added strength will help him shed tacklers next season. He acknowledged his stats might not be as stellar next season, but he believes he can improve other aspects of his game, including blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield.
He said he has faith in coach Bret Bielema and the Badgers have plenty of young talent itching for a chance to make their mark.
Besides a new quarterback, there will be other changes: Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst has announced he will take over head coaching duties at Pitt. The Badgers' offensive line coach, Bob Bostad, will join Chryst's staff as offensive coordinator.