Dec. 14, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — From his starting defensive end position, University of Iowa sophomore Christian Ballard has evolved into an on-field leader, coaxing along rising stars like freshman back-up Broderick Binns.
But when it comes to the Outback Bowl, Ballard has no problem resigning to the role of follower.
“This is my first bowl game, so I’m looking forward to a nice little trip and bonding with teammates,” Ballard said. “I’m always asking how it’s going to be, just following the older guys around. I’m not sure when the meetings are, so I’m asking the older guys and hoping they can take care of me.”
If the actual Outback Bowl game plays out like Iowa’s regular season, Ballard won’t require much guidance once he steps foot on the Raymond James Stadium turf. Ballard started all 12 games for the Hawkeyes and was 11th on the defense with 38 tackles (12 solo, 26 assists). He also compiled five quarterback hurries, 3 ½ tackles for loss, 1 ½ quarterback sacks and a blocked kick.
The Iowa defensive starters include a freshman, five sophomores, two juniors and seniors Matt Kroul, Mitch King and Bradley Fletcher. So far, the Hawkeye seniors have won their final home game (22-17 against Purdue on Nov. 15) and their final regular-season game (55-0 at Minnesota on Nov. 22). Ballard wants to make certain that the seniors have a memorable conclusion to the bowl game as well.
“We’re going to practice and get better,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the game and playing for the seniors one last time. I can’t wait to play my heart out against an SEC opponent.”
Ballard, an art major, stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 284 pounds. He prepped at Lawrence (Kan.) Free State High School, where he caught 50 passes for 558 yards and six touchdowns during his career as a tight end. He also earned four varsity letters in track and field and two in basketball. Even with all the programs and festivities planned during bowl week in Florida, Ballard said his main objective is South Carolina.
“I’m looking forward to everything about the bowl game,” he said. “I’m looking forward to Busch Gardens — I’ve never been there. But you know, even with all the hype, I’m going to focus on beating South Carolina. That would be a huge win because going down to Florida (for a January 1 bowl game) is definitely hard for any team. It will be a tough challenge, but we want to turn in an exciting performance to set the tone for next year.”
The Outback Bowl marks the fifth time in the last seven seasons that Iowa has played in a January bowl game. Kickoff is 10 a.m. (Iowa time) and the contest will be televised by ESPN.
To view a photo gallery from Sunday’s practice — available exclusively on hawkeyesports.com — CLICK HERE.
Fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes who live in the Heartland or in the Sunshine State or in all points between should note that the UI Athletics Ticket Office is accepting ticket orders for the 2009 Outback Bowl. To purchase your tickets online click HERE. Fans can also purchase over the phone by calling 1-800 IA-HAWKS or over-the-counter at the UI Athletics Ticket Office in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.