Former Free State star Christian Ballard calls it quits in NFL

Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Christian Ballard makes his way to the field during NFL football training camp, July 29, 2013, in Mankato, Minn. Ballard, a former Free State High standout, left Vikings camp on Aug. 18 and revealed to USA Today in a story published Wednesday that he has retired from the NFL.

Former Free State High three-sport superstar Christian Ballard has had a whirlwind past month in which he:

  • Left Minnesota Vikings training camp on Aug. 18, citing personal reasons.

  • Married Victoria Hallenbeck on Aug. 30 in a Lawrence courthouse.

  • Was arrested with Hallenbeck on Thursday for domestic battery. The couple spent 29 hours in jail after an argument in their apartment, according to Casey Ballard, Christian’s father.

  • Revealed to USA Today in a story published Wednesday that he retired because, “I wasn’t really having a good time playing football. It wasn’t fun for me.”

Reached by phone at his Lawrence home Wednesday night, Ballard’s father said his son’s decision did not shock him.

“It wasn’t surprising for a lot of reasons I’m not going to go into,” Casey Ballard said. “I can say he’s happy now and that’s pretty much all that matters.”

He volunteered that the arrest of his son and daughter-in-law “got blown way out of proportion.”

“They were having a verbal argument,” Casey Ballard said. “Neither one touched the other. And since they’re in an apartment complex, a next-door neighbor called the police. We’re still trying to figure out why the police felt the need to bring them in. And they never had the ability to post bond, which is why they stayed there 29 hours.”

The district attorney did not press charges against either Christian Ballard or his wife, whose apartment is near 31st and Iowa.

Casey Ballard said his son has not closed the door to a possible return to the NFL. Regardless of that, he said, his son is trying to sell the home he owns in the Twin Cities so that he can purchase one in Lawrence. The Vikings will retain Ballard’s rights for two years.

“If he decides to go back next year I’m pretty sure he’ll rent a place up there and make this his permanent home,” Casey Ballard said.

Ballard, 24, played defensive end and tight end for the Firebirds, led the basketball team to a third-place finish in the state tournament as a senior in 2007, and ran one leg of the Firebirds’ standout 4X100 sprint relay team. He attended Iowa on a football scholarship and was drafted in the fourth round by the Vikings in 2011.

Ballard signed a four-year, $2.488 million contract that included a $407,552 signing bonus. He was set to earn $555,000 in 2013 and $645,000 in 2014, contingent upon making the roster.

“Making that much money, that was fun,” Christian Ballard told USA Today. “But money is still a material thing. You can always make money. You can’t make that time that you lose with your friends and your loved ones. Time is something that you can never get back.”

Ballard also told the national newspaper that he thought playing in the NFL changed him in a negative way.

“It made me selfish,” he said. “It made me complacent. I just thought that I was better than everyone.”

Free State basketball coach Chuck Law said he had not spoken with Ballard since he came to one of the Firebirds’ practices when they were preparing for the state tournament last season.

“Just like everyone else who coached him at Free State, we’re always there for him if he ever needs to talk to us,” Law said.

When they last spoke, Law said, Ballard seemed, “very happy, very positive about his prospects with the Vikings. He seemed very upbeat and he looked great, so it was surprising to me from what I saw and heard.”

But Law said he looked at it through a different prism when he had a conversation with a close friend who works as an agent to NFL players.

“He told me it surprises him that more people don’t do it because of the brutality of the sport and the beating you take, especially linemen,” Law said. “He said the only reason more guys don’t is the allure of the money is so strong.”

When Ballard left camp, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he had done “a very good job for us last season,” at defensive tackle and was counting on him to do the same again this season.