Christian Ballard became the first former Free State High football player to have his name called in the NFL Draft Saturday when the Minnesota Vikings selected him with the ninth pick of the fourth round.
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 283 pounds, Ballard started for three years at Iowa after starring in three sports (football, basketball and track and field) for the Firebirds.
Ballard initially made a verbal commitment to attend Georgia on a football scholarship, then changed his mind and made an oral commitment to Kansas before ultimately signing with Iowa.
Recruited as a tight end, Ballard started his Hawkeyes career at defensive end and eventually moved to defensive tackle.
Ballard, the 106th overall selection in the draft, did not develop a reputation as a big-time playmaker at Iowa, which meant he had to have extraordinary numbers at the NFL combine to move into consideration for the first round. Many who saw him sprinting for Free State in the 4x100 relay figured he might accomplish that.
He didn’t help himself a great deal at the combine, however, running a fast, but unspectacular 4.75 time in the 40-yard dash. His vertical leap of 31-01⁄2 inches was the best among defensive ends. At the Iowa pro day, Ballard ran 4.70 twice and improved his vertical leap to 34 inches.
The potentially most damaging test result wasn’t measured in inches. Fox Sports reported that Ballard and Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston tested positive for marijuana at the combine, a concern for some teams given that all athletes know they will be tested for it at the combine.
Regardless of that reported misstep, Saturday was a proud day for the Free State athletic department.
“Christian’s a good kid,” Firebirds athletic director Mike Hill said. “A lot of people make mistakes, and I don’t know any particulars. All I know is what I read in the paper, and I’m not going to make any judgments on somebody based on what I read in the paper. I love him to death. I think the world of him, and I think he’ll do the right thing.”
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was asked about the failed drug test at a post-draft news conference Saturday. Frazier said the team’s security staff had done “a great job, along with our coaches, of delving into every player’s background.” He added, “I feel good about all the guys we’ve selected from a character standpoint.”
Frazier said he plans to use Ballard first on the inside of the line, but will slide him outside at times.
“He’s one of those rare commodities, when you talk about big men,” Frazier said. “I mean, he moves extremely well, and that flexibility should really help our defense.”