On a Thursday afternoon in August, the week before Hurricane’s season-opener against Skyline, Riley Ballard stopped at Fryz to get a soda after a long day of working on a farm.
Assistant football coach Gordon Dotson was also stopped there, teaching driver’s education at the time.
“He comes to me and says ‘Riley, I want you to come try receiver.’ I said, ‘Isn’t it too late? Isn’t there a game in eight days?” Ballard recalled after a recent practice.
Ballard figured, why not? And he went to practice that same night.
“I said, ‘You can come out and try it one day to see if you like it,’ and I think he’s liked it ever since then. He’s been a big part of our offense since then,” Dotson said.
Eight days after that first practice, Skyline beat Hurricane on a two-point conversion in overtime. Ballard didn’t feature much in that game. His breakout party was a week later, as he caught two touchdown passes in the Tigers’ 20-16 win at Canyon View.
The 6-foot-5-inch Ballard has emerged as one of the Tigers’ top receiving threats despite not planning to play football in this, his senior year. He’s given Hurricane an extra option on offense which had to rethink its approach when leading rusher Jake Carr suffered a serious knee injury this summer.
Ballard started on the varsity basketball team last year and averaged 8.4 points per game. It’s been two seasons, though, since he played football.
“I don’t even know what I did last year during football season, (I) probably sat on the couch and played Xbox or something,” Ballard said.
Head coach Steve Pearson said Ballard wasn’t on his radar at all in the offseason. Dotson got the idea to ask Ballard to play football over the summer, when he was helping out with summer basketball of which Ballard took part in.
Ballard said he was hesitant to play at first, but decided if he stuck with it he was going to commit 100 percent. He said he’s surprised that this season’s worked out as well it has for him so far.
Ballard has 23 catches for 290 yards and three touchdowns through the first six games, partly a result of Hurricane throwing the ball more this year. That’s also benefited Michael Lacy to the tune of 15 catches, 237 yards and four touchdowns.
“Hurricane hasn’t usually been a throwing team in the past, and it kind of surprised me that we’re throwing the ball now and (that the coaches) put that much trust in me just coming in this year,” Ballard said.
There’s a mutual appreciation between Ballard and the players, and Ballard and the coaching staff. The players, specifically quarterback Josh Parker, are happy he joined the team.
Ballard’s just happy the coaches gave him a chance. The coaches, meanwhile, are glad he’s playing.
“We’re happy to have (Ballard), proud of his efforts and his successes, and he’s made us better,” Pearson said.
Ballard wonders what it would’ve been like if he played the past two years. There are some regrets, he said, but he won’t let it drag on him.
“I feel like I missed out on a lot of stuff every now and then, but other times I feel like it is what it is, don’t look back at the past just live the future,” he said.
However the season turns out for the 3-3 Tigers, who host Pine View on Friday night, Ballard and Dotson can thank the happy coincidence of seeing each other at Fryz that ended up with Ballard playing.
Follow reporter Patrick Carr on Twitter @PatrickCarr_ and on Facebook at Facebook.com/PatrickJosephCarr1/ or call him at (435) 231-3834.