For Ballard, 2nd career has strings attached

Navy back sets stage for chance in country music

September 30, 2006|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun reporter

For as long as he can remember, Adam Ballard has enjoyed punishing would-be tacklers. But Navy's junior fullback, envisioned by some as a worthy successor to recent Midshipmen star Kyle Eckel, also is hooked on working a different kind of crowd.

When off campus sans uniform, Ballard can be found in jeans, cowboy boots and a Stetson hat, cutting loose at the karaoke bar that reminds him of his Texas home. And Ballard isn't just fooling around while serenading the folks at Lu & Joe's in Mount Airy with a Willie Nelson favorite or a beloved cut by Johnny Cash or Hank Williams Jr.

Ballard likes to think he's laying the foundation for another career. After he leaves his mark on Navy's well-established program and fulfills his commitment as a Marine officer, the big kid who grew up bleeding Dallas Cowboys blue wants to take up guitar lessons, learn how to read and write music, and do it on stage for real. He has begun to dabble in writing lyrics.

In less than a full season as a Navy starter, Ballard, 6 feet 1 and 230 pounds, already has proved he can run.

"When [Ballard] lowers that shoulder [in practice], I don't even like tackling him," said Mids inside linebacker Rob Caldwell, the nation's second-leading returning tackler coming into this season.

Four times in seven straight starts dating to last year, Ballard has rushed for at least 120 yards. In his career, he has scored seven touchdowns and is averaging 5.8 yards on 177 attempts. He rarely fumbles or loses yardage, and he combines the ability to deliver bruising hits and pull away from defenders.

But can he sing? Does he have the goods to become a star?

"Adam has a little twang in him. Not too bad," said senior fullback Matt Hall, who is a close friend of the guy ahead of him on the Navy depth chart. "If he is [a star someday], I want to be one of his entourage, as long as I can be a bodyguard. Somebody has to catch all of the girls and throw them off of him. He'll be fighting them off."

"He sings in the shower. He can carry a tune," senior quarterback Brian Hampton said. "But can he carry a tune in front of a crowd?"

"To be a good country music singer, you don't have to have a real good voice," Ballard weighed in. "Some of the best country singers have raspy voices. But there aren't a lot of country music singers who don't play guitar. Besides football and serving in the military, that's what I want to do."

Ballard, who grew up as the oldest of four children in the Dallas suburb of Lewisville, was a natural in football from age 9 in a state where that sport is king.

At Marcus High, where he was a two-time all-district selection and all-state as a senior, Ballard's biggest thrill was playing in a five-overtime loss in the 6A state championship game to rival Lewisville High before nearly 40,000 at Texas Stadium - home of the Cowboys.

His biggest disappointment was being moved from running back to wide receiver as a senior. That year, once-interested schools such as Purdue, Arkansas and Texas-El Paso stopped calling. Navy, which was rebuilding under then-new coach Paul Johnson, kept pursuing a player they saw as a potential backbone in the triple option.

"If I could have known at 16 what I know now, I would have stuck with the decision [to commit to Navy]," Ballard said. "I just don't see myself getting as much achieved in those other places."

After spending a year at the academy prep school, Ballard arrived in Annapolis in the summer of 2004, as Eckel was putting his stamp on the school as its fourth-leading career rusher (2,906 yards). Ballard observed Eckel's every move, from the way he practiced all week to the way he bulldozed linebackers on Saturdays.

When Hall, who began the 2005 season as the starter, tore up his knee against Notre Dame, Ballard stepped in to grab the starting job he has never relinquished. He finished the season as only the second player in Navy history to rush for at least 100 yards in his first three starts, including a 192-yard, two-touchdown gem against Army.

"I've seen him hurt, and he doesn't care. He's not letting go of his position," Hampton said. "He's like Kyle with the way he can run people over, but I think he's changing the role of fullback. He's a juggernaut with speed."

Said Johnson: "He's one of those athletes who gets off the bus and turns your head. He looks the part."

Two summers ago, while attending a Toby Keith concert at Nissan Pavilion in Virginia, Ballard turned the head of Brittany Lonas, now a junior at the University of Maryland. Lonas grew up in Damascus and introduced her boyfriend to Lu & Joe's.

"He likes to close the place down by singing four or five songs. I think he'll be able to get his foot in the door [in the music business]," said Lonas, who attends Navy home games regularly and wishes Ballard would run around defenders more than he plows into them. "It's a dream now. But when it's time to do something and Adam puts his mind to it, he does it."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

NAVY TODAY

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