By JOE SANTORO
Mike Ball is no longer a member of the Nevada Wolf Pack football team.
"Mike violated team rules and protocol and, unfortunately for him, there was no other alternative," Pack coach Chris Ault said in announcing his decision to dismiss the junior running back from the team on Tuesday.
"This is real disappointing," Ault added.
Ault said that Ball had been on probation recently for violating team rules and another recent rules violation made the dismissal the obvious next step.
"He knew what was going to happen," Ault said. "He was on probation and he knew that another mistake would lead to this. He knew before we talked (Tuesday morning) what was going to happen."
Ball, a 5-foot-10, 215-pound junior from Desert Pines High in Las Vegas, rushed for 704 yards and three touchdowns on 135 carries (5.2 yards a carry) this season over nine games and five starts.
Ball rushed for 1,183 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in his three-year career. He is also Nevada's all-team leader in kick returns with 1,695 yards on 70 returns (24.2 average).
Ball, who had been bothered by an ankle injury the past two months, did not carry the ball in last week's 24-21 loss to the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Mackay Stadium, in a 42-28 victory over Hawaii at Mackay Stadium on Nov. 12 or is a 37-0 victory over UNLV on Oct. 8.
Lampford Mark, a senior, has taken over as the Pack starter at running back the past two games and has rushed for over 100 yards both times.
"I enjoyed Mike," Ault said. "It's just unfortunate that some young people don't realize what they have until it's gone."
Ball's break-through game came during his freshman year when he started for an injured Vai Taua in 2009 at Mackay Stadium against UNLV. He rushed for 184 yards and scored five touchdowns against his hometown Rebels. It would be the only game he played against UNLV in his Pack career, missing both Fremont Cannon games in 2010 (disciplinary reasons) and this year (an ankle injury).
The Pack's 63-28 victory over the Rebels that afternoon on Oct. 3, 2009 was the first of 16 in a row at home for the Pack, a streak that was snapped this past Saturday in the loss to Louisiana Tech.
Ball played in 10 games in 2010 behind Taua and rushed for 259 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries.
The 21-year-old rushed for 99 yards on 14 carries off the bench against Oregon in the season opener this year and followed that up with 124 yards on 29 carries against San Jose State in his first start this year. He also had 139 yards on 27 carries against Texas Tech, a career-high 198 yards on 26 carries against Fresno State on Oct. 22 and 93 yards on 19 carries against New Mexico State on Oct. 29.
"Mike has a great personality," Ault said. "He's a good young man. He was just misled. He had too much follower in him and not enough leadership."
Ball's absence leaves the Pack with Mark (513 yards) and sophomore Stefphon Jefferson (413 yards) as the two most accomplished backs on the roster for the final two regular season games this Saturday at Utah State and Dec. 3 against Idaho at Mackay Stadium.
Freshman Kendall Brock (111 yards) and junior Nick Hale (38 yards) could also see increased playing time with Ball out of the picture.
"We have a lot of depth at running back," Ault said. "We have a good group there. We''ll be OK."
Ball's absence will likely play a bigger role next year when Mark is no longer on the roster.
"We'll just have to recruit one more running back," Ault said.
Ault wouldn't say whether or not the Pack would recruit a back this winter that could compete right away with Jefferson, Brock, Hale and red-shirt freshman Anthony Knight next year for the starting job.
"After the season we'll look at where we're at and determine what direction we'll go in," Ault said. "But we'll definitely bring in at least one freshman running back."