Xavier Football: The Next Generation
By Mike Barras
For Ben Ballard, the football field has always been the scene of both great triumph and great tragedy.
One of the worst days of Ballard’s life, for instance, was Sept. 25, 1971, when he and his Xavier football teammates lost to Marshall University, 15-13, in a game that would be forever immortalized in the 2006 movie “We Are Marshall.”
Contrast that to Feb. 5, 2012. The onetime Musketeer defensive end/linebacker wasn’t on the field that day. Rather, he was in the stands, watching, as his son, Jake, the starting tight end for the New York Giants, was crowned Super Bowl Champion. Parental pride always wins over playing prowess. It immediately became one of Ballard’s greatest gridiron days.
Ballard, though, isn’t alone in the stands these days. As the end of Xavier football nears its 40th anniversary, its legacy is living on in the next generation with at least one other player as well, Ed Huber. The former Xavier placekicker passed along his powerful left leg to his son, Kevin, who is in his fourth season as the punter for the Cincinnati Bengals.
For the two sons, their paths to the NFL couldn’t have taken more contrasting routes. At 6-foot-7 and 281 pounds, Jake Ballard was highly recruited coming out of Springboro (Ohio) High School. He signed with Ohio State University, where he was a four-year starter at tight end, played in two BCS National Championship games and two other BCS Bowls. But OSU coach Jim Tressel rarely threw the ball to tight ends, and Ballard went undrafted. The Giants signed him as a free agent for the 2010 season, where he spent the majority of the year on the practice squad. But he got his chance in 2011 and won the starting tight end job. (He is now a member of the New England Patriots.)
Kevin Huber, on the other hand, was a three-time all-league punter at Cincinnati’s McNicholas High School, but wasn’t recruited and had to walk on to the football program at the University of Cincinnati. He got very limited playing time, but as a junior in 2007, under new Bearcat head coach Brian Kelly, he got his chance. He led the nation in punting with an average of 46.9 yards, which set a UC record. He was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s best collegiate punter and was Big East Special Team Player of the Year. As a senior, he was key performer on UC’s Orange Bowl team and was the first player in UC history to be named First Team Associated Press All-American two years in a row. He was drafted in the fifth round (142nd overall) by the Bengals.
For both players, they ended up at the pinnacle of their professions, and created two proud parents.