TEMPE – Even before Arizona State’s season-opening loss in Houston, the Sun Devils had already suffered a major blow: sophomore running back Kalen Ballage would not play because of illness.
In fact, he had been sent home the day before the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff.
“He did not want to get on the plane to come home, I can tell you that,” head coach Todd Graham explained at his weekly Monday press conference. “He was rather upset with me. But I told him, ‘I’ve got to do what’s best for the well-being of our guys.”’
Graham did not specify what type of illness Ballage was dealing with, but reports earlier in the day indicated Ballage had mononucleosis, a common illness that can leave a person feeling tired and weak for weeks or months, according to WebMD.com.
“He is not out for the year,” Graham said. “He’ll be back as soon as he’s well which will be in the next couple of weeks, I think.”
Mono goes away on its own with rest being described as the best self-care, as advised by the health and medical news website, which recommended avoiding contact sports and heavy lifting because “your spleen may be enlarged, and an impact or straining could cause it to burst.”
“The good thing is we’ll get him back as soon as he’s cleared medically,” Graham said. “We have a great training staff; we have a great team of doctors.”
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Ballage was expected to play a significant role for the Sun Devils this season, including game one against Texas A&M.
“He is a major part of what we’re doing,” Graham said. “I’ll tell you one of the things it did hurt, it hurt our special teams. It hurt our special teams, I think it hurt our — because the way we practice with our grouping.
“So Demario (Richard) didn’t have that guy, kind of that one-two punch with him (in the backfield). And then Gump (De’Chavon Hayes) who wasn’t really supposed to play that much in the running back position, now he had to do all that. If we would have probably had time, we would have had D.J. (Foster) do that…so it did affect (the game plan) a little bit.
“(But) those things happen, that’s kind of part of the game.”
Ballage appeared in 12 of the 13 games as a true freshman, primarily as a goal line back. He carried the ball 42 times for 138 yards and three touchdowns, caught six passes for 64 yards and a score plus had a big 96-yard yard kick return to help ASU beat Duke in the Sun Bowl.
“What this football team is all about is responding from adversity,” redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici said. “And obviously for Kalen, specifically, it was just sad to not see him out on the field because he is such an imposing football player. But we really didn’t flinch. We have guys who stepped up. We have a lot of guys who have game experience.
“In the next couple of weeks he’ll back out there and we’ll be going with him again.”
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