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ASU Football: The One Where Kalen Ballage Meets Kaelen

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Not Kaleb. Not Kaleen. Not Katelyn. Not Keelin. ... Ka-len.

Sun Devil Athletics

There's a handful of ways to spell the name "Kalen."

"K-a-l-e-n," Arizona State Sun Devils junior running back Kalen Ballage said, smoothly reciting the spelling of his name. "I spell it real slow and everything like that."

For Ballage, his first name is derived from the Gaelic word meaning "slender." He says it was given to him by his grandmother.

"I love her to death," he said. "So I just stuck with it and rode it out. I have no idea why she did. She just liked it."

"It's just something different," said Reggie Ballage, Kalen's dad, regarding his son's name. "Just something unique and different."

My first name is pronounced the same way as Ballage's, but mine is spelled "k-a-e-l-e-n." It's an Irish name meaning "warrior."

The irony? Kalen, a former four-star recruit from Peyton, Colo., stands at a warrior-like 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. I, Kaelen, stand at a slender 5-foot-7 and typically find my weight fluctuate between 125 and 130 pounds.

Fabian Ardaya/Devil's Digest (via Snapchat)

Regardless, despite our difference in stature, we share a rare bond through a name that is simple for most to remember, but unique enough to cause one hearing it for the first time to be taken back, misunderstanding what they've heard.

Unfortunately for me, the pronunciation of our first names and the dumbfounded reactions we've received while sharing them almost marks the extent of our similarities.

At 19 years old (we enrolled at ASU the same year, too), I still occasionally introduce myself by my last name, nicknames, or by my initials as a way for peers to remember me. For Ballage however, this hasn't been as necessary.

He says his family calls him "K.B." and, when in the mood, he'll introduce himself as such. But for the most part, he hasn't needed a nickname to stand out; his massive size or his outstanding play on the field enables him to.

"Once they know (my name), they have a good time remembering it," Ballage said. "Maybe from a football game or something like that."

Regardless of the variation, our names aren't considered to be common. In fact, generally, they're used to name girls. Prior to meeting Ballage, I had met just one other male named Kalen in my lifetime; conversely, I've met five girls with a form of the name.

"Every time I say my name, they say ‘Katelyn' or something else," Ballage laughed. "I think they thought it was funny, but they stopped thinking that after awhile."

Growing up, Ballage never let jokes involving his name affect him. Actually, he's never really noticed them, even while out on the field.

"I really try not to listen to anybody while I'm out there," Ballage said. "I focus and pay attention to what I'm doing. I've never really heard anybody try to trash my name."

His focus has been steady throughout his entire football career, and led to him becoming a 700-yard-producing tailback in 2015. Meanwhile, I'm a 700-word per article journalist who writes about Ballage's production.

We're of opposite heights--literally--as far as physical dominance is concerned.

His talent has been apparent since he was a kid, according to his father. In the same manner Kalen challenges defenders while bursting through a hole today, Reggie says his son was as daring an athlete then.

"When he was younger, he used to do things like get on top of the house and jump off the house onto the ground," Reggie recalled. "He's always been energetic. The kid loves to compete."

"It runs in our family."

He's not being cliché, either. Kalen has two uncles who have played both Division I football and in the NFL.

Howard Ballage played receiver for the Colorado Buffaloes before spending the 1980 season with the Buffalo Bills. Meanwhile, Pat Ballage played defensive back for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish before spending the 1986-87 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Said his father, "It's just in his genes to be competitive."

Ballage is a competitor in every sense of the word. He also displays a selfless attitude which prides team before personal accolade.

Having joined the Sun Devils as a member of the same recruiting class as fellow junior running back Demario Richard, Ballage has yet to serve as the lead back during his time in Tempe. However, instead of viewing the timeshare as a hindrance, he's embraced the opportunity and his counterpart.

"It's been great, man," he said. "I love Demario to death, and it just gives us the opportunity to learn and grow together. It's making us so much better."

Ballage says his goals for 2016 are team-oriented, and is keeping personal expectations to himself.

"It's all about the team and getting out there and winning football games," he said.

"We kind of had a down year last year, so we wanna pick it up this year and do what we know how to do best, and that's win football games."

Last season, Ballage battled through injury in warrior-like fashion, turning in several key and memorable performances. He's looking to surpass his production from last year in the new campaign.

"Last year, I had a few bumps and bruises with my shoulder," he said. "Being sick and stuff like that. It was really unfortunate, but I'll be able to come in stronger and keep myself healthy this year."

The Sun Devils will be more than welcoming of a full season of Ballage. Throughout the spring, Ballage and Richard echoed one another, acknowledging themselves as the leaders of the offense, taking on the role headfirst.

Coaches took daily delight with their play, and with the two working in tandem, excitement for the potential of the duo is skyrocketing. Kalen's versatility is a key reason for that.

"I just wanna be able to do everything so that when I get to the next level, they can say ‘This guy, he can kick return, he can punt return, he can play running back, he can play receiver, he can do a lot of different things,'" Ballage said.

"It just gives me the opportunity to expand."

Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham has worked to give Ballage the opportunity to do just that. Aside from tailback, Ballage has served as a returnman, and even emerged as a possible candidate to play at Devilbacker for ASU in 2015.

As for his natural spot, Ballage has mesmerizing running ability. He possesses tantalizing athleticism, embodying a unique blend of speed and size.

"What a lot of people don't notice about me is that I really have great speed and cuts," Ballage said. "Hopefully this season I'll have the opportunity to show people that I'm not just a downhill runner and that I can do a lot of different things."

Last season, he told Doug Haller of AZ Central that he's at least in the conversation for fastest player on a team featuring speedsters such as Cameron Smith, De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes and Tim White.

However, Ballage stands four inches taller and outweighs each by nearly 40 pounds.

Although there's a stigma among bigger athletic tailbacks suggesting they don't use their frame to run through defenders often enough, Ballage has shown an enjoyment for bowling over and through defenders, too.

His versatility begs to be utilized.

When asked about how new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey's scheme plans on using both him and Richard, Ballage was all smiles.

"I think you guys will find out," he said. "We're still very involved--blocking, catching the football, running the football. We're just involved a little bit differently, but we're still in every aspect just like we used to be.

"It's a change of pace, and it gives defenses a different look," he continued. "It's just about making it all come together and making it form and being fluid."

With the focused, cool demeanor of Ballage, it's tough to figure everything won't come together for him.

His father says the high-effort mentality he's maintained throughout his childhood and into adulthood is what can propel him into the next stratosphere as a player.

"He's a good kid," Reggie said. "He's always been a go-getter."

And why wouldn't he be? His name is Kalen.

His name may mean slender, but he's a go-getter--and a true warrior.