MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Five men roughed up star Wisconsin running back Montee Ball in an unprovoked attack near campus early Wednesday, inflicting head injuries serious enough to send him to the hospital, authorities said.
Ball was walking down a street around 2:15 a.m. after "socializing" with friends, police spokesman Joel DeSpain said. Two friends walking ahead of him turned around and saw Ball on the ground. Five men had surrounded him and were kicking him in the head and chest, DeSpain said.
One of his friends and a man across the street moved to help Ball and the attackers fled, DeSpain said. Witnesses said Ball may have exchanged words with the men before they attacked him, but the motive for the assault remains unclear.
"We're going to take a look at whether the victim was targeted for who he is," DeSpain said.
Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season as a junior, was taken to a hospital with head injuries, police said. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said Ball was released and under the care of the school's sports medicine staff.
The Badgers open practice Monday and the season-opener at home is Sept. 1 against Northern Iowa. Bielema said his staff will evaluate Ball in the coming days but he expects the senior to make a full recovery.
Wisconsin spokesman Brian Lucas said Ball was resting at home Wednesday. He said he didn't know the extent of Ball's injuries, where Ball was going at the time of the attack or whether other players were with him. Most of the team has left campus for one last week off before camp begins, he said.
Ball posted Twitter entries reassuring his fans he'll be all right. "I appreciate the support and thank you for the concerns," Ball wrote. "I will be okay! See you guys in September!"
Ball had a stellar season last year, scoring 39 touchdowns to tie Barry Sanders' NCAA record. He finished the year with 1,923 yards rushing and 2,229 all-purpose yards, second in Wisconsin history only to Ron Dayne's 2,242 yards in 1996. Ball capped the season by rushing for 164 yards and a touchdown in the Badgers' 45-38 loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
He announced days after the bowl game to return for his senior season after NFL evaluators told him he would have likely been a third-round pick.
Police issued Ball a trespassing ticket in May after he stepped unwanted onto a Madison porch during an annual end-of-the-year student street party.
The area were Ball was attacked is on the edge of the Wisconsin campus and features multiple bars. Police have been dealing with what they say are combative crowds in the vicinity all summer.
Three people were hurt in a May shooting outside two bars about a block from where Ball was assaulted. Two men mugged a 17-year-old boy in the same block as the shooting during the early morning hours of July 21. That same day, a 35-year-old man reported to police that someone had been stabbed after leaving a bar in the same block. The next morning, again in that same block, multiple fights broke out on the sidewalks, forcing a police officer to use pepper spray to break up three brawls.
Police deployed extra patrols in the area last weekend