Joey Ballard is doing the same thing today that he was doing 20 years ago when he was a two-sport standout at Missouri Southern.

"When I'm back to school doing stuff I used to do, it's like 'Man, I haven't done this in 20 years,' " Ballard said. "I've had to retrain myself.

"The toughest part about it is having family and all the extracurricular stuff that is going on. And online classes can be overwhelming sometimes. It's a time management thing. It's getting back to all the things I used to do, play football and baseball, manage time, stay on top of things and do homework."

Ballard is preparing for his second year at Jasper High School. He's been hired as the Eagles' new head football coach, and he's taking online classes as he pursues his teaching certificate and master's in special education.

"I am excited," Ballard said. "It's going to be different obviously going to 8-man. The Xs and Os you see that may work for 11-man may not work so well for 8-man."

"He's a good guy," Jasper athletics director David Davis said. "The kids like him."

Ballard, a 2002 MSSU graduate with a degree in criminal justice, has seen a few turns in his career path during the last dozen years. He spent five years as the manager of Braum's in Webb City, and then he worked five years for Dana Snodgrass at Snodgrass Collision Center.

Last year Sam Sturgis was Jasper's football coach, and he brought in Ballard as an assistant. Sturgis and Ballard were teammates for many years on the Joplin Crusaders' non-pro football team.

"Sam asked me to coach," Ballard said. "I had talked about it for several years. I started coaching youth football when my son played in the JYFA. I thought once he's done, maybe try to follow those guys to the middle school ranks. Sam gave me the opportunity.

"I also wanted to get involved in school and maybe pursue teaching. They had a special education job open. That goes hand-in-hand for me. Coaching is teaching. I wanted to be around the boys, hold them accountable in the classroom and make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

"The superintendent (Christina Hess) helped me get lined up with the proper online classes I needed to start fulfilling my dream of teaching and coaching. I did junior high basketball last year, and I'm also head baseball coach. Of course, we didn't get to do baseball this spring, but I hope to get a chance to try again this year.

"Talking with family and friends, a lot of people encouraged me and and said this looked good for me. Everything has worked out. I got in the classroom and the football job came open after Sam was not retained. God has a plan for me, and I have to make sure I do the best I can. I'll give it a shot and see what happens."

Ballard, a 2017 Missouri Southern Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, played for the Lions from 1998-2002. He is the only athlete in MIAA history to be named freshman of the year in two sports — football in 1998 and baseball in 1999.

That freshman campaign started in the fall when he rushed 86 times for 522 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 30 passes for 377 yards and one score. Then in the spring he batted a team-high .358 with 10 doubles, 22 runs batted in and 11 stolen bases.

He ranks in the top-10 in seven career lists in baseball — fourth in runs (204) and walks (146), fifth in stolen bases (62) and triples (12), sixth in at-bats (692) and hits (226) and ninth in games (199). He shares the single-game record of five hits with several players.

In football Ballard holds career marks for punt returns (75), punt return yards (699) and kickoff returns (47). He's ninth in receptions (99) and scoring (158 points).

"I want to teach the lessons I've been taught from playing sports and going to school," Ballard said. "A lot of kids think they are entitled sometimes. If you don't make the grade, you don't get to play. I want to instill that in the guys. That's life in general. If you don't take care of business, usually you'll find yourself without a job."

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