The University of Wisconsin athletic department said running back Montee Ball was beaten up in an unprovoked attack downtown just after bar time early Wednesday morning.
A witness said the attackers appeared to target Ball as a member of the Badgers football team.
The incident happened in the 500 block of University Avenue at 2:15 a.m. Wednesday.
According to Madison police, a man was walking down University Avenue when witnesses said five men jumped the victim. Police said he was knocked to the ground and kicked. A statement from the UW athletic department said Ball was the victim.
Ball was taken to a hospital with head injuries, according to police. Police said it does not appear Ball knew his attackers, and they are investigating the case as an unprovoked assault.
"He was the victim of an unprovoked attack. According to witnesses, he was punched, knocked to the ground, and then they were kicking at him. There were a couple of citizens in the area that were able to come to his aid, and these perpetrators were last seen running south towards Frances street, towards the Kohl Center," said Joel DeSpain, Madison Police Department spokesman.
A witness, who asked to remain anonymous, told WISC-TV that one of the men who attacked Ball made comments about him being on the football team, suggesting he may have been targeted.
The witness said one of the attackers said after the attack, "[expletive] the UW football team."
Another witness, Luke Will, a junior at UW-Madison, said he heard something similar from the attackers. Will said he was across University Avenue when he heard the attack happening.
"(Ball) was on his back, lying on the ground. He had blood over his face and on his shirt. His eyes were closed. He was pretty much knocked out," Will said.
Will said he also believes the attack was targeted, saying the five men knew who they were beating up.
"I heard the guys yell, 'Nine more football players to go' -- something along those lines, like they were in the hunt for 10 players, and Montee was one of them," Will said.
Madison police said they are looking into whether the victim may have been targeted.
"What we believe at this time is it's an unprovoked attack, but whether or not this person was targeted for who he is, that's something we'll be taking a look at," DeSpain said.
Ball suffered a concussion and some facial cuts in the attack.
UW football coach Bret Bielema released a statement on Ball's condition Wednesday.
"My concern right now is for Montee's health and well-being," Bielema said in the statement. "Montee has been released from the hospital and is under the care and supervision of our sports medicine staff."
"We will continue to evaluate him as we approach the start of fall camp this weekend," said Bielema. "I do expect Montee to make a full recovery."
Ball sent out a tweet later Wednesday morning following the attack.
"I appreciate the support and thank you for the concerns," said the tweet from Ball. "I will be okay! See you guys in September!"
The Badgers football team's first practice of pre-season camp is Monday. Ball walked into Bielema's office Wednesday afternoon and said he'll be reporting to the team's camp Sunday, but there's no word yet on whether Ball will be on the field for that first practice Monday.
Police said the assailants were last seen running south on North Frances Street toward the Kohl Center. Anyone that knows anything about the incident is asked to call Madison Crime Stoppers at 608-266-6014.
Madison police have been keeping a closer eye on this area of University Avenue, especially after a shooting happened there a few months ago. More than 20 extra police officers are now patrolling the area on weekends.
Police said they'll reevaluate their plans after this incident to see if more officers need to be on patrol during the week as well.