SEC FOOTBALL SERIES
Today: Mississippi State
Monday: South Carolina
Camp start: Thursday
Opener: Sept. 1 at Memphis (8 p.m. on FoxSS)
Fun fact: By defeating Georgia last season for the first time since 1974, the SEC team Mississippi State has gone the longest without beating is Tennessee. MSU's last win over the Vols came in 1994.
Most of the top-tier tailbacks in the Southeastern Conference -- talents such as Alabama's Trent Richardson, Auburn's Michael Dyer and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore -- were coveted by programs from coast to coast.
Mississippi State's Vick Ballard? Not so much.
"I was never highly recruited," Ballard said. "I've always used that as a chip on my shoulder and a reason to work that much harder. I didn't ask any questions. I just know that they didn't want me."
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior rushed for 968 yards and a school-record 19 touchdowns last year for the Bulldogs, who erupted in Dan Mullen's second season to finish 9-4 and No. 15 nationally. Mississippi State defeated Georgia for the first time since 1974, beat Florida in Gainesville for the first time since 1965 and capped its banner year with a 52-14 throttling of Michigan in the Gator Bowl.
If not for a leg injury during a 98-yard performance at Florida that forced him to sit out the following week against UAB, Ballard likely would have rambled past the 1,000-yard milestone as an SEC rookie.
"He wants to go out there and prove everybody wrong -- that he should have been recruited out of high school and that he should have been more heavily recruited out of junior college," Mullen said. "You could see on day one when he walked on our campus that he had that 'it' factor about him.
"He's not the fastest player out there. He doesn't have the most dynamic moves. He's not a monster big back. He's just a great football player."
After rushing for 940 yards and scoring 17 touchdowns as a senior at Pascagoula High School, Ballard signed with Jackson State, a championship subdivision program, but failed to qualify. He enrolled at Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston, where he rushed for 555 yards as a freshman and 1,728 yards as a sophomore, earning junior college All-American honors.
His biggest offer coming out of Gulf Coast was Troy University before Mississippi State came calling.
Ballard had 60 yards on seven carries in his MSU debut against Memphis, and he earned his first start in the third game against LSU. His first 100-yard game occurred in the fifth week, when he rushed for 119 yards on eight carries against Alcorn State, but he felt the Florida game was when he became the focus of the offense.
"I had 20 carries against Florida, and the first few games I would get 15 at the most," he said. "After the Florida game, my carries really increased."
His biggest performance was a 33-carry, 154-yard game in the 38-31 double-overtime loss to visiting Arkansas. Ballard scored three touchdowns against the Razorbacks but fumbled out of the end zone in the first overtime.
Ballard enters his senior season with unquestioned respect, and he feels he is better at certain aspects compared to the more publicized backs in the SEC.
"I think I can get the tough yards on third-and-1, fourth-and-1 and at the goal line," he said. "That's when I'm a pretty productive back. A good number of my touchdowns came from goal line, and some people say they're the easiest touchdowns, but I think they're the hardest because everybody knows you're going to run the ball, and they know where you're going to run the ball.
"I think that aspect makes it that much harder."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...