Ben Bales, like many kids from the north side of the county seat, can’t get enough time on the lake. The young fisherman is one of many students at North Forsyth High School who have helped build one of the better angling teams in the entire state. He’s not shy about the competition.
“Oh, heck yeah I’m on the fishing team,” Bales exclaimed, proudly. “I really love it. I came in second in a tournament last year, then third at the county championship.”
Bales is a competitor, but he also enjoys his time on the lake for reflection. Like waiting for a fish to bite, the water is also where he found his patience.
Over the last few seasons he’s spent time on the sidelines watching other quarterbacks in the county dazzle. Last season, West Forsyth quarterback Kiernen Hamilton was one of the top passers in the state for much of the campaign, carving defenses with his willingness to throw anywhere and to anyone. Meanwhile, South Forsyth’s Davis Shanley passed for over 2,000 yards, ran for over 600 more and scored enough touchdowns to earn considerable interest from Division I colleges.
The other county teams were running offenses that looked fun, up-tempo and quarterback-centric. North spent time experimenting with running backs taking snaps.
During all of that time, even as an underclassman, Bales felt like he was falling back into the shadows. That’s only because of how eager he was to be doing the same thing.
“I expected I’d actually get some playing time as a sophomore once I got onto the varsity team,” Bales said. “But last year we actually changed some things up on offense, we started running some wildcat formations, and things just didn’t work out. They didn’t go according to plan for me either.”
That all changed when North brought in Robert Craft to help the offense. Craft, a former quarterback at Tennessee Tech, made himself a wanted coaching prospect after his high-tempo, pass-happy offense led North Florida Christian to a state championship during his tenure there. When North decided to bring Craft to Coal Mountain, Bales knew his patience had paid off.
“As soon as he got here I started doing one-on-one workouts with him,” Bales said. “We did probably three or four of those a week, and those helped me develop a lot as a quarterback. Learning the playbook before the season started was big too. Coach played a big role in my progression for sure.”
Craft still is playing a big role, as is Bales. Just three games into the season the Raiders have already matched their win total from a season ago and with one more victory will match the total from the previous two seasons combined. It appears, so far, that the winning formula is coming with a much heavier dose of the air attack.
Not only that, but it’s making North look much more similar to the other teams in the county having success—South and West have benefited greatly from running more modern styles.
So far Bales is second in the county with a 98.3 passer rating, only behind last year’s FCN Offensive Player of the Year Davis Shanley, and he has a county-leading eight touchdown passes and is averaging 246 yards per game.
The team has scored 96 points through three games as well.
Bales has no reservations—he thinks the more complex, difficult system is a major key to success.
“I can describe my relationship with (coach Craft) with two words,” Bales said. “Tough love. I know he supports me and he loves me but he’s constantly on me, and I actually really like that. I never really had a coach like that, and it’s been a key to how we performed. He is always on us about doing what we are supposed to do, and I’m happy he’s doing it.”
Bales has also received private instruction with some of the other quarterbacks in the county. In the offseason he has trained with Quincy Avery, a quarterback coach who has worked with the likes of Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs. Bales was joined in those workouts with Shanley and Lambert quarterback Richie Kenney—one committed to play collegiately at Western Kentucky, the other has two Division I offers.
Overall, the quality of the quarterbacking in the county might be the best it’s been in years. Even Pinecrest Academy’s Ryan McCarthy, an all-state linebacker in some respects, plans on accepting a Division I scholarship to play quarterback at The Citadel after this season.
Four of the county’s six quarterbacks already have at least an offer to play Division I football. While Bales is taking the county by storm, Forsyth Central quarterback Brad Thiltgen is adding some dynamics to the Bulldogs’ offense as well.
Bales hopes his junior season thrusts him further toward his goals of joining rank with his peers.
“I want to play football in college,” Bales said. “Not like a giant powerhouse school, not the SEC, but kind of something smaller. Maybe Appalachian State or Western Carolina.”
Both of those schools are in the Appalachian.
“I like mountains. I like rivers,” Bales said. “Lakes. I’ve got to be able to fish.”