BY DAVE LINK
Greeneville High School senior Cade Ballard is ready for the next phase of his life playing quarterback for Army in West Point, N.Y.
He’s prepared for the rigorous schedule it will entail – a balance of education and football and military life in the Army.
It’s not for everybody.
Ballard says it’s for him. Maybe long term. Maybe not. He will serve at least five years in the Army after four years at West Point.
“I could stay in 20 years, or after five years get out and go the civilian track,” Ballard said. “I don’t know right now. All I know is I’m going to a great place and I get to serve my country for a number of years.”
Ballard leaves Greeneville High after a historic run with the football program. He started all 55 games of his career, starting his first game as a freshman, and posted a 52-3 record with Class 4A state championships the past two seasons.
His father, former Greeneville coach Caine Ballard, said his son’s qualities as a quarterback go beyond taking snaps and running the offense.
“He’s a great leader,” Caine said. “He’s a tremendous teammate. It’s not about him, and the players know that, and his competitiveness. He hates to lose. He’s a great competitor. I’d say all of those things, and I don’t know in what order you put those in, but just his leadership, his ability to lead and be a great teammate, and he’s just super, super competitive.”
Sounds like a perfect fit for the Army.
The Black Nights finished 11-2 in 2018 after a 70-14 victory over Houston in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.
“Coach (Jeff) Monken has turned that place around,” Cade Ballard said. “They’re really rallying around football now. The administration has done a great job. Right now it’s back to the golden age of Army football. I’m going in at a great time with great people and hope to do great things.”
Ballard, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound dual-threat quarterback, had offers from Tulane, Middle Tennessee State University, Army, Navy, Air Force, and multiple Football Championship Subdivision programs (Division I-AA).
He narrowed his choices to the service academies before choosing Army.
“I just felt like Army really kind of fit my personality more,” he said. “You can’t say anything bad about any of the service academies. They’re all great and great institutions. They put out a lot of great men and women who serve our country, and I just felt Army was more home for me.”
So does his father.
“We’re ecstatic for him, just the opportunities that Army presents,” Caine Ballard said. “I think it’s a great fit for him. He’s such a disciplined, tough young man, and I think that’s what it’s going to take to prevail there academically and in football. I just think it’s a great fit for him, and he’s going to thrive there.”
Cade Ballard put up staggering numbers at Greeneville, where he has a 3.92 GPA. He threw for 9,399 yards and 123 touchdowns with 19 interceptions in four years with a .752 completion percentage.
Ballard rushed for 2,669 yards and 60 touchdowns in four years, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
His last two seasons ended with 15-0 team records, back-to-back Class 4A Mr. Football Awards, and offensive MVP awards in the BlueCross Bowl’s Class 4A state championship games.
“It’s a blessing to be around the guys that I was around for so many years, and the work that we put in,” Ballard said. “To be able to do it and be blessed enough and be healthy for those years, words can’t explain how fun it was and what a great ride that we were all on for however many years and to come out with two gold balls, it’s pretty impressive.”
In 2018, Ballard threw for 3,050 yards and 40 touchdowns with one interception, completing 80.8 percent of his passes. He rushed for 843 yards and 20 touchdowns on 101 carries (an 8.35-yard average).
When the Greene Devils beat Haywood, 56-21, in the Class 4A championship game, Ballard rushed for 152 yards and four touchdowns (averaging 8 yards per carry) and completed 7 of 10 passes for 95 yards.
Ballard says there are several reasons for his 55-game streak as Greeneville’s starter.
“I attribute that to the Good Lord above and working our hind ends off in the weight room,” he said. “The culture, that really speaks I think both years the 22 guys starting game one of last year (2017) started the state championship game last year, and the same was this year.
“It speaks to the culture of our program at Greeneville High School. It just doesn’t get any better than that when you have 22 guys starting the first game of the year and you have the same 22 guys starting the state championship game. That’s a testament to our program and how hard we work and what kind of guys we’ve got.”
Ballard’s streak of consecutive starts was in limbo when he sustained a knee injury in the fifth game of the 2017 season, a 38-8 win over Pisgah (N.C.).
Fortunately, Greeneville had a bye week after the Pisgah game, during which Ballard’s injury was evaluated.
Caine Ballard said Cade had “at least a Grade 2 MCL” damage to his knee, but was braced when he started the next game, a 69-0 win over Sullivan Central.
“He was close (to missing the game), an injury like that, but the weight room certainly saved him from missing some time his junior year or possibly missing the rest of the season,” Caine Ballard said.
Cade Ballard was a pitcher and outfielder in travel baseball as a youth, starting at about age 5 when he played up an age division.
Caine was coach of the team.
It wasn’t a great memory for Caine, who said he was “very, very hard” on his son in baseball.
“I blame myself for kind of pushing him away from baseball, so when he started playing football, I turned him loose and let him go have a good time and let other folks coach him,” Caine said. “I think it worked out pretty well for him. I feel bad about the way I handled his baseball career.”
Cade started playing flag football at the age of 6 and tackle football at age 9. He played quarterback and defensive back until the eighth grade, when he began focusing solely on quarterback.
Cade said his father’s coaching wasn’t why he quit baseball and values the father-son coaching experience.
“Being a coach’s son, especially Caine Ballard’s son, he gets after it, and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Cade said. “I guess high school my first two years, he was getting after me quite a bit. I was making some young, stupid mistakes early in my career, and that’s only typical. These last two years, the game really slowed down for me at the high school level, and I was comfortable with the guys I was playing with, and having that just kind of settled me down.
“When I started playing well and really being able to open the whole offense up, I think it kind of turned me loose a little bit and let me be me, and (Caine Ballard) handled it the right way. There’s no doubt about that. I’m proud of for the way he’s handled being my coach and I’m proud of myself for being able to stick through it and come out the other side as a two-time state champion.”