In the Northwest Guilford weight room, above the dry-erase board is a sign that reads: “Success is rented, not owned … and rent is due every day.”
In 2022, the Vikings football team went 10-3, its first 10-plus-win season since 2013, and reached the NCHSAA 4A playoffs’ third round.
Since then, much has changed: a new coach, a new system and an effort to replace graduates such as Bristol Carter and Mike Godette.
But expectations haven’t changed for this season and there to balance success from the past with optimism for the future is the quarterback-receiver combination of Tanner Ballou and Trenton Cloud. Both all-area selections, Ballou was the 2022 Metro 4A Offensive Player of the Year. Cloud, who has committed to East Carolina, has been an FBS-offered recruit since the eighth grade.
The two seniors have a similar temperament, not too high after touchdowns and not too low after interceptions.
People are also reading…
“I think both of them are very similar,” said new Vikings coach Chris Rusiewicz. “They both are competitors. They both want to fight and compete, but they do it with their actions and not with their words, and it’s something exciting.”
Ballou said they met at Northwest Middle and have been good friends ever since. In high school, Cloud has been a starter since he was a freshman, while Ballou has been since they were sophomores.
In 2022 with then-Northwest coach Kevin Wallace, Ballou received HSXTRA second-team honors after completing 60.4% of his passes for 2,639 yards and 35 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Cloud, 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, was a first-team selection with 71 receptions for 1,003 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“When this job opened, it’s a great place, great people,” Rusiewicz said. “But for me what it was is, I remember Urban Meyer once said that every program that he went to, it all started with making sure they had a good quarterback. They had a good quarterback here along with a lot of other great pieces. Obviously, you have a receiver already in place, so I mean, we knew we had some things to score points.”
Last season, the offense averaged 39.7 points per game. The passing attack averaged 15.6 yards per completion, but Rusiewicz said he has geared practices on precision timing routes and has a goal of 65% completion, with less emphasis on setting up the big play and more on moving the chains.
The duo’s work ethic has helped in adjusting to the modified offense. For Ballou, that means taking receivers out to Northwest or Oak Ridge Park for extra sessions. In his younger years, the quarterback hated watching tape, but, since last year, he has made a point to self-critique in addition to analyzing YouTube videos from football coaches and players. A Patriots fan, his favorite quarterback to study is Tom Brady, although he said Baker Mayfield’s style is more of a match for the 6-foot pocket passer.
Ballou said Cloud’s size, route-running and yards-after-catch capabilities are similar to Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson, if he had to pick an NFL player for comparison.
“It’s usually just throwing on the field,” Ballou said. “It’s all of the time, every week. Like in the summer, I’ll text him and be like, ‘Yo, meet up at the park at 6,’ and we’ll go throw, be there for an hour and a half, an hour, two hours, and we’ll just talk about the season, we’ll talk about players, talk about college football. We’ll talk about football, and that’s really what our relationship is around; it’s football because we want to have the best senior season.”
“He’s very quiet,” Rusiewicz said of Cloud. “Usually a guy with that type of caliber is either over-cocky or usually, like he is, even-keeled. I’m just glad that he is even-keeled.
“When he makes a play, there is a fire there, but he handles himself with composure. When things aren’t going well, he handles himself with composure. I’m at the moment right now where I’m waiting for that moment where he stands up and says the right thing at the right time to get the team to go, ‘Holy crap, here’s our guy finally seeing the writing on the wall and telling us how we should be doing things.’ ”
“I would love for every player to have the composure and maturity of the two of them,” Rusiewicz said. “It’s not always that way. Some people are very much over-the-top, rah-rah and don’t speak with their actions. And there are other guys who only speak with their actions but never speak up when the time is right. And I think those two are really what we want to be as great players, lead by example and speak up when the time is right.”