Kalen Ballage on Michigan's recruiting intensity: "Nobody has just marched me down like Michigan." (Photo courtesy of Kalen Ballage)
Colorado isn't typically regarded as a mandatory recruiting stop for the nation's top programs. But a number of coaches made an exception this year so they could drop in for a look at Falcon, Colo., running back Kalen Ballage. Though still somewhat raw according to talent scouts, last season he showed impressive size, speed and versatility.
"Everything went great," Ballage said. "I played running back on offense and also slot. I also played outside linebacker on defense. I'm 6-2, 215, and I run a 4.36 forty."
That's impressive speed for any high school athlete, but for one as big as Ballage it is freakishly so. The forty-time is so gaudy that many have questioned its legitimacy, but talented youngster insists he has the electronic track times to back him up.
"I ran 10.71 last year as a sophomore in the 100 and I ran 21.55 in the 200," he said.
Those times certainly substantiate the assertion that he is fast, but the scrutiny quickly shifts to the question of whether he is a track guy playing football, or a football guy that runs track. According to Ballage, his film definitively proves that he is the latter, and he further made that point at the recent Under Armour All American camp in Phoenix.
"That is the first camp that I'd ever been to," he said. "I wanted it to be kind of my coming out party. The running backs went up against the linebackers and I think everyone thought, 'He's big — he's got to be slow. He has got to be a running back that runs through you and not around you.' I think that kind of helped me disguise my speed. Then when I did go up against those linebackers and even some corners and safeties, they didn't have a chance. They kind of screwed themselves thinking I was slow."
Ballage added: "A lot of those kids at the camp that I talked to had been working on their skills for that camp for months and months, getting ready for it. Honestly, I did not touch a football since football season three to four months ago. When I came to the camp I was kind of nervous. Luckily, I performed right away and actually I did not drop a (pass) the whole camp."
Obscure no more
The veil of obscurity that once hid him from college football's elite is now starting to disappear. In recent months, Nebraska and Michigan joined a swelling offer list that had long consisted of Boise State, Colorado, Colorado State, Utah and Wyoming. A number of other BCS programs now appear to be close to joining that tally. As the pool of suitors has gotten deeper, the task of distinguishing one's self has become increasingly difficult. Even so, Brady Hoke and Michigan assistant Darrell Funk have managed to do just that.
"Coach Hoke came down to my high school (in late January)," Ballage recalled. "He couldn't say much, so I just shook his hand. That's about it. But he kind of sized me up and everything. Coach Funk messaged me on Facebook (the next day). I called him, and he put me on the phone with Coach Hoke. He pretty much just told me then and there that I had a full ride from Michigan. It was just mind-blowing!
"First of all, to see Coach Hoke in person — you see this dude on TV every week, and then you see him in person — it's mind-blowing. Then to get that offer from him — it was cool because I've had this dream to play college football and be successful since I can remember. It's just cool when the dream starts to come true."
Ballage worked hard to maintain an open mind in the aftermath of such an exciting development, but there's no denying the intensity of Michigan's pursuit has made a distinct impression.
"Nobody has just marched me down like Michigan," he said. "Coach Funk and I kind of just clicked from the get-go, and ever since things have just escalated. Literally I saw Coach Funk two times within two weeks. Then to see him again when he comes with Coach Hoke the third time … I'm like, 'Wow that's crazy! He could be anywhere in the world right now. Why would he be here in little old Falcon, Colorado?' That was pretty cool. Their persistence is out of this world."
Future Wolverines recruiting
And it is showing no signs of letting up. Coaches currently aren't allowed to physically be out on the recruiting trail, so the Wolverines are pulling out all of the stops from afar to maintain their strong presence.
"I have talked to Coach Hoke and Coach Funk constantly," Ballage stated. "They send me letters and things like that. (Setting up a visit to Michigan) is always something we talk about every time we speak. It's a matter of actually (figuring out a date) because I have track going on and stuff like that. So hopefully (it can be scheduled for) the beginning of summer."
If he makes it to campus during that timeframe he might be able to connect with 2014 Richmond (Va.) Collegiate quarterback Wilton Speight, and 2013 Parker (Colo.) Ponderosa offensive lineman Chris Fox. Each future Wolverines is doing his part to help lure Ballage to Ann Arbor.
"(Speight) texted me and he just told me pretty much that he wanted me to go to Michigan," said Ballage. "I guess he saw my film and he texted me and said, 'Man we got to get you out here. I want you go to Michigan and be my running back.' Same deal (with Fox)."
The overtures have only served to cast Michigan in an even more favorable light, but the three-star tailback has stopped short of publicly declaring a leader. He does concede, however, that there are teams currently sticking out on his list. For the time being, Ballage plans to keep their identity and other pertinent recruiting information close to the vest. It's all part of his strategy to keep the opinions of others from influencing his thoughts. Not even family will be allowed to violate the self-imposed sequestration.
"I was kind of leaving my parents out of it a little bit too because at the end of the day it is not about them," Ballage explained. "It is really about me and what I want to do. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. It is what I want at the end of the day."
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. His Michigan recruiting column appears every Thursday at detroitnews.com. For more on U-M recruiting, visit michigan.scout.com.