MOBILE, ALABAMA – The 2011 Senior Bowl is void of any talent from the local schools. After Kansas State RB Daniel Thomas withdrew his name from this weekend’s all-star game, the states of Kansas and Missouri were left without any senior representatives.
But just because the local schools aren’t represented doesn’t mean there isn’t any homegrown talent on display in Mobile. There’s a prospect out there that prepped in Kansas City’s own backyard and even grew up a Chiefs fan.
Meet Iowa DE Christian Ballard.
Though his name may not be as familiar as teammate Adrian Clayborn, Ballard is still making plenty of headlines for his play this week in Mobile. Most of the fanfare has come for his competitiveness during one-on-one drills with offensive linemen.
Aside from looking to improve his draft standing this April, Ballard is also hoping that his Senior Bowl showing will impress his local NFL team.
Ballard lived in Lawrence, Kansas for seven years before making Iowa City his collegiate home. He prepped under longtime area football coach Bob Lisher at Lawrence Free State High School and still has plenty of connections to the area.
Like so many kids that grow up just 50 miles from Arrowhead Stadium, Ballard attended Chiefs games as a young football player and became a Chiefs fan in the process. In fact, it was a reminder of the Arrowhead atmosphere that ultimately helped Kirk Ferentz land the out of state recruit at the University of Iowa.
“I lived in Lawrence and went to some Chiefs games as a kid,” Ballard said. “I loved the atmosphere there, it was great. It’s a lot like the atmosphere at Iowa where everybody is into the game. When I went to Iowa to take my visit it was an Iowa/Iowa State game and it kind of reminded me of the Chiefs. It was an awesome experience and I loved it, so I decided to go there. In the end, it was really an easy decision.”
After excelling at Free State as two-way player on the defensive line and at tight end, Ballard settled in as a defender at the collegiate level. The 6-4, 288-pounder made starts at both defensive tackle and defensive end for the Hawkeyes, lining up primarily on the left side for most of his career.
Ballard is already considered a versatile defensive lineman, but he’s looking to show NFL scouts this week that he can line up anywhere along the defensive front at the pro level.
“I’m trying to work a lot on the right side this week to show NFL teams that I can play anywhere on the line,” said Ballard. “At the next level, it would be nice to play end, but I’m willing to play wherever they would need me to.”
Though he started 26 straight games over the last two seasons for a top-flight BCS program, Ballard has played most of his career in the shadows of Clayborn. Throughout the week, Ballard has even found himself answering questions about Clayborn’s decision to skip this Saturday’s Senior Bowl.
He seems to have the basics of NFL media training down already.
“You’ll have to ask him - he doesn’t train in Iowa,” Ballard said when a reporter asked him about Clayborn’s absence.
While Clayborn is the name that most football fans recognize on the Hawkeye defensive line, Ballard doesn’t feel like he’s being overlooked by NFL talent evaluators.
“A lot of people paid a lot of attention to Adrian because of the sacks and great season he had last year, but I think the pro scouts know what our defensive line did as a whole,” Ballard said. “I’m trying to improve my draft standing right now. I know that I have to improve and as long as I keep working hard, good things are going to come.”
When asked of the one thing he hopes NFL teams will take away from his game this week, Ballard pointed to his work ethic.
"Just prove I can work hard, I have good habits and that's what I'm trying to display right now," he said. "I'm working on a lot of things. I've just got to work on my pass rush. I don't know that I've dominated a lot of people, but I feel like I've competed, and that's what I came here to do."
Ballard had even more of a reason to follow his local NFL team last season with former Hawkeye teammate
“I talked to Tony when he came up here and visited us for workouts,” said Ballard. “He said that he’s really enjoying it there and that it’s awesome.”