Arizona State senior running back Kalen Ballage may have the most to gain of any player on the roster from a strong performance during the 2017-18 campaign.
His eight-touchdown performance against Texas Tech last October landed him his first big-time national media coverage, but after following that game with just six touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ final ten games, last fall's media frenzy over the kid from Colorado seems a lifetime ago. So why has Ballage captured the spotlight this offseason once again?
The same thing that attracted head coach Todd Graham when he recruited the 6 foot 2, 227 pound senior during 2014: his potential at the next level.
Due to a wide range of factors surrounding him at Arizona State - injuries, questionable quarterback play, often playing second fiddle to Demario Richard - Ballage has yet to provide consistent performances in a Sun Devil uniform. But it's not his collegiate career many are focused on, but rather his potential at the next level – he’s even garnering attention beyond sports news organizations.
“Agents are calling my phone all day every day and I never answer,” Ballage said during Pac-12 Media Day in Hollywood this summer. “That’s stuff I’m going to take care of when the season’s over.”
Ballage has been facing a barrage of attention from agents eager to get a head start in the race to represent the senior tailback – even messaging him on various social media platforms – but it doesn’t seem to get to him.
“One step at a time,” Ballage said. “Be where your feet are. That’s the motto for me I always live by. That’s down the road, there’s a lot that can happen between that time.”
Ballage’s skillset is an extremely desirable asset in the eyes of many professional football franchises. He’s strong enough to develop into an elite tackle-breaker in the NFL, large enough to develop into a troubling mismatch when he gets into the secondary and has proven to be a very good receiver out of the backfield during his time in Tempe.
None of this is lost on the many NFL pundits that prepare draft predictions, as Ballage is often touted as a top-10 running back prospect heading into his senior season.
ESPN’s Todd McShay ranked him as the No. 6 running back in his 2018 draft position rankings, Chase Goodbread of NFL.com listed Ballage at No. 9 on his “College Football’s most freakish athletes” list and he’s even been mentioned as a potential sleeper on multiple fantasy football sites for next season.
His most recent venture into the national spotlight came during summer practice in mid-August, when the 220-pound back was clocked at 22.6 miles per hour during a run at practice.
To put that in context, the only NFL players that ran as fast as that or faster during the 2016 campaign were Washington’s DeSean Jackson (22.6 mph) and Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill (23.24).
As is often the case with Ballage, however, he downplayed that accomplishment. When asked how it feels to rank among the most electrifying playmakers in football, he simply stated that quickness isn’t important unless you know how to use it.
“It’s pretty cool but that speed doesn’t mean nothing if you can’t translate it to the field,” Ballage said. “That’s the most important thing, a lot of guys can talk about ‘well I can bench 500 pounds’ but that doesn’t matter if you can’t translate it to the field and play football.”
Ballage has clearly demonstrated an ability to use his incredible physical gifts, which is why he’s in the position he is now, garnering a high level of media attention both within and beyond the collegiate realm.
Even for all of the things he can accomplish on the football field, Ballage seems to have even more to offer in his mental maturity. Many of his social media posts are centered around his mantra “be where your feet are” and he acknowledges that he’s often felt ahead of the pack in terms of the mental game.
“I’ve always just kinda been a more mentally mature person, ever since I was young,” Ballage said. “I feel like my mind is always in the right place.”
That level of mental aptitude only reinforces Ballage’s rock-solid draft profile, and he seems to be gaining more and more momentum every day as he heads into his final season as a Sun Devil.
He looks nearly unstoppable in preseason practice, head coach Todd Graham has been very vocal about increasing his touches this year, and now both the national media and NFL scouts will have their eyes locked on him all season long.
Ballage has just one thing left to do: become the star that everyone believes he can be.