Ricky Ballard ran for 218 yards and three touchdowns to earn Times Free Press Player of the Week honors.
The question now is whether he's up for more of the same, or more precisely whether Notre Dame team doctors, his parents and his coach are going to allow it.
"He's been saying 'I'll be ready,' but what his parents and the doctors say will determine that," Notre Dame coach Charles Fant said. "He had an X-ray Friday and there's nothing broken, but it's still quite tender and he is going to have an MRI [today]."
The freshman scored all of Notre Dame's TDs in a 23-13 win at Lookout Valley Friday but sustained a shoulder injury late in the game that may sideline him for the Irish's key District 7-AA game this Friday against Signal Mountain.
Ballard didn't have any long gainers but was Notre Dame's workhorse as the Irish improved to 5-1.
"He had a big game earlier in the year against [Chattanooga Christian] but that was on speed and cuts. Against Lookout Valley he wasn't cutting, wasn't evading. He would lower his shoulder. It was 5 yards, 2 yards, 7 yards, 15 yards and he hadn't shown that [style] all year," Fant said. "We knew he could run, but we didn't expect him to be this good this fast although he has an amazing work ethic -- always one of the first to finishing conditioning drills and weight-training."
The coach, a spread offense believer, knows how important the running game can be.
"If you can't run the football, it's hard to win championships," he said. "That's what's exciting for us -- to know he's a freshman, a young 14 years old and already doing that and he'll be here for another three seasons."
The Irish will need Ballard and whatever else Fant and his staff can conjure up Friday in what could be their biggest game of the year and a game that may decide the District 7-AA championship. Both Notre Dame and Signal Mountain are unbeaten in district play.
However, if Ballard is limited or even unable to go, Notre Dame won't be helpless. Ballard got in the starting lineup because Auston Banks suffered a high-ankle sprain three weeks ago. Fant said Banks looked pretty good last week running straight ahead and that the sophomore is reportedly ready to begin testing the ankle today, making cuts and turns. Also, there is a possibility that Kareem Orr, perhaps the Irish's best athlete overall, will get some opportunities in the backfield as well as wide receiver.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...