Montee Ball is returning to the place where he found football stardom.
It’s also where the drinking that destroyed his personal and professional life began.
Ball won’t be taking classes at the University of Wisconsin this summer as a gridiron hero. And even though he’s still young enough to play professionally at age 26, Ball has no interest in that kind of comeback.
Ball will be a regular student with completely different goals than when he left for the NFL four years earlier.
He isn’t just seeking to graduate.
He is seeking redemption while trying to warn others not to let alcohol take them down the same path.
While breaking rushing records for the Badgers, Ball was setting himself up for failure to come. The heavy partying that began during his 2011 junior season didn’t stop after he became a Denver Broncos second-round draft pick two years later.
The boozing continued throughout his time in Denver and after his 2015 release.
A domestic violence arrest in February 2016 left him watching his former Denver teammates win Super Bowl 50 from jail. New England, which had signed Ball to its practice squad, unceremoniously dumped him. Another domestic violence arrest followed after claims made to police by a girl he dated several years earlier; claims that Ball adamantly denies.
Ball still had not yet hit rock bottom.
That moment came last April. One week following the birth of a son he didn’t know was his until just three months prior, Ball was arrested for violating terms of his bond when spotted drinking inside a Whitewater, Wis., bar.
“I just couldn’t handle all this,” Ball told Sporting News in an exclusive interview.
Ball grew so frustrated that he took to Instagram to vent about how he was being portrayed in the media far more negatively than Johnny Manziel, another high-profile player who had his NFL career derailed by a reckless lifestyle and domestic-violence incident. Ball, though, knew deep down it would take more than words to not only change his image but get his life in order.
The process began after Ball saw his son for the first time the week after the Whitewater arrest. It continued after Ball finally committed himself to confront the alcoholism and domestic violence that ran in his family.
Cory Divine, the addictions and mental health therapist who treats Ball through Connections Counseling in Madison, believes “he’s made a ton of progress” in doing just that.
“Around early summer last year Montee really shifted into a different stage,” Divine told Sporting News in a telephone interview. “He acknowledged being an alcoholic, which is a significant thing, and coming from a domestic violence background himself.
“He recognized, ‘This is a pattern I’ve got to stop. It’s my responsibility to do so.'”
Ball is keeping track of the days he has remained sober and is determined to avoid another relapse while starting a new chapter in his life.
“I don’t want to whine or seek public pity,” Ball said. “But I do want to explain everything and give everybody some insight on what I’ve been battling.”
Ball didn’t know it at the time, but the seeds for the substance-abuse issues he would face were planted long before he ever donned a helmet and pads. Ball said his grandfather was an alcoholic, and that addiction was passed down to his father.
Research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that children of alcoholics are at greater risk of developing the disease themselves.
That’s what began happening with Ball in 2011.
“I started to drink a lot more and it started to pour into football,” Ball said. “If I knew we had a super-easy practice the next day, I’d go out and get drunk with a whole bunch of people. I’d wake up drunk, hit the steam room and go to practice.”
The negative effects were not evident during his collegiate playing days. Ball became the most prolific scorer in Division I/FBS history with 77 rushing touchdowns and 83 overall scores. He won the 2012 Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back after motoring for 1,850 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior despite having suffered serious injuries earlier that year during an on-campus assault.
ult.at year during an on-campus assault.