Back in June, Joe Ballard was trying to prepare for his final season of high school football, full of hopes and aspirations for playing at the next level.
But then Ballard suffered an injury that all the players on the team seemed to remember vividly. The Manhattan High senior went to cutback on a play at the Pittsburg State football camp, and felt the pop in his knee. It was a torn ACL.
Ballard will get a second chance next year, as he was accepted to attend the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., a prep school that will allow him to play a year of football and get a head start on college course work.
The Hotchkiss School accepts 16 percent of applicants and most of their students attend Yale after a year there. Athletes don’t lose any college eligibility, as it’s essentially another year of high school.
Ballard has aspirations of playing football at a handful of prestigious universities afterwards.
“Hotchkiss is a boarding prep-school in Connecticut where they take fifth-year seniors to go either work on school or football or anything you need to, to get accepted into the school you’re looking at,” he said. “And for me that’s going to be Penn, Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Holy Cross.”
Ballard, who is currently finishing out his senior season with the MHS boys’ golf team, said the early summer end to his football season helped him mentally prepare for not playing football in the fall.
He was named a captain in April 2011, and stayed in his spot for the extent of the season, making appearances at the coin toss, talking to players during games and attending practices.
Of course, he still wished he could be out there playing with his teammates.
“It wasn’t very fun, but you have to do what you have to do, there was nothing I could do about it,” he said. “I’ve been working hard to get back for next year. It was kind of better that I did it when I did, it wasn’t that hard to deal with during the season because I already knew it was coming.”
Ballard said his knee isn’t quite at 100 percent, but it hasn’t affected him on the golf course. What hurt him the most, was not swinging the club for nine months. He credits that time with some of his early season inconsistency.
MHS golf coach Brad Ficke said he imagines the knee injury will stick with Ballard mentally for a long time, but says his personality keeps it from bothering him.
“He likes to make people think that it doesn’t bother him, but once you’ve had an injury like that, it’s always there,” he said. “I think he deals with it by going with the flow, and that’s a pretty mature sign, that’s just who he is though.”
Ballard dropped around 30 pounds from the time of his injury to the beginning of the golf season, and he said he is currently trying to put that weight back on to prepare for playing linebacker or fullback at Hotchkiss.
He is the only senior for the MHS golf team this season, which will take two sophomores and three freshmen to Monday’s regional meet at Sim Park in Wichita. Ficke took over as coach for Ballard’s freshman year, and he said they got through it together.
Ficke said the biggest asset to having Ballard as his senior leader this season, has been his personality.
“Joe’s attitude never really lets anything get to him, and I think that’s good for the team, he is pretty unshakeable,” he said. “And that’s one of the biggest adjustments younger golfers have to make, controlling their emotions. Joe plays with intensity, but comparing him from the football field to the golf course — it’s almost like different people. It has been nice to have that stability there from him.”
Football players playing golf is nothing new, but the transition of hard-hitting linebacker to the golf course seems a little bit odd. Ballard makes it work though, and Ficke said it goes back o his athleticism.
“He is an athlete and I think a lot of people don’t realize that golf is an athletic sport,” he said. “You need to know timing and leverage. He lost some weight from last year to this year and I think he is hitting the ball better than ever, and it goes to show that you don’t need that extra weight and power to drive the ball.”
The Indians are preparing for a tough regional field next week that includes Centennial League champion Washburn Rural. Ballard said the main goal is to make it to state as a team, but they would also like to beat the Junior Blues and win the tournament.
Ficke said if the team plays at its best, he thinks it can not only qualify for state, but win the regional.
The MHS coach said he can’t wait to hear about how Ballard does at his new school next year, and to see where it takes him for the future.
Ficke admits, it’s pretty hard not to like a guy like Ballard.
“Anybody who doesn’t like Joe Ballard, I’d love to know the reason, because he is a really likeable person,” he said.