Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Free State’s Ballard already ready to commit


Christian Ballard's track times - relative to his stocky 6-foot-5, 265-pound body - had college football coaches clamoring for his attention a full year before the Class of 2007 signs letters of intent.

It won't do any good now. The Free State High junior has chosen his college.

Ballard, a tight end, elected to play football at Kansas University in 2007. Ballard said Monday he made his commitment during KU's junior day Saturday.

"I talked to my parents, and we decided it was the best thing," said Ballard, whose brother, Casey, attends KU. "I know the coaches up there, and I know the academic programs. It was closer to home, and I have a lot of friends here. It would have been senseless to go somewhere else and start over."

Ballard's athleticism can be compared to some of the best tight-end recruits in the nation the past few years. With his bulky frame comes blazing-fast track times - his 40-yard dash time is around 4.65 seconds, and he was a state qualifier in the 200-meter dash with a personal-best time of 22.7 seconds. He also has run the 100 in just over 11 seconds.

Along with his individual 200 race, Ballard was a leg on the 400- and 800-meter relay teams for Free State, the latter of which won the Sunflower League title last spring.

"For a guy his size, he is faster than a lot of guys 40 or 50 pounds lighter than him," FSHS track coach Steve Heffernan said. "He's got pretty good turnover for a guy his size. As he's gotten older, he has gotten quicker in his first few steps."

Ballard joined the varsity football team as a sophomore alongside classmates Ryan and Brian Murphy, who also attended KU's junior day. In 2004, Ballard lined up as wide receiver, but he moved to tight end for his junior campaign, serving as a run blocker for running back Brian and a pass-protector and target for quarterback Ryan.

"It was just his ability to catch the football," Lisher said of Ballard. "Above that is his blocking. He did a great job blocking for us."

Recruiting service hasn't ranked the 2007 class yet, but Ballard is expected to be one of the state's top prospects, along with Shawnee Mission West linebacker Blake Lawrence - brother of KU signee Tyler Lawrence - and Great Bend running back Jeremy Reed. Both of those prospects are on KU's radar.

Ballard, meanwhile, is believed to be the earliest pledge KU coach Mark Mangino has landed since arriving at KU in 2001. With his non-binding oral commitment out of the way, Ballard now has nearly a year to polish his football skills and fend off other schools sure to make a run at him.

What he won't have to do is work on the natural gifts that, this early in the recruiting process, interested the Jayhawks.

"He's at 265 now," Lisher said of Ballard's frame. "I think that's plenty heavy enough for what he needs to do."


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