LIfe's sunny for Cloud at Western Oregon
Cloud is a starting outside linebacker at Western Oregon in Monmouth, part of his team's 4-1 beginning of this season.
"I can't believe it's been five years since I got here," said Cloud who redshirted as a freshman.
Cloud was one of 40 freshmen redshirting back in the 2002 season, months after he graduated from Culver. Since then, he moved onto the field on special teams for three seasons and started the final four games at linebacker last year.
It set him up for this fall as the 6-foot, 220-pounder is the Wolves' leading tackler. He has 33 in five games with three tackles for losses to go along with breaking up one pass and forcing a fumble.
The progression hasn't surprised head coach Arne Ferguson who is also WOU's defensive coordinator and linebacker coach.
"We recruited Jeff because of his work ethic," said Ferguson who hails from Vale in Eastern Oregon. "So I know about kids from small towns having a work ethic. That's what made Jeff into the player he is."
It wasn't an easy journey during his redshirt season, Cloud said. Redshirts only practice with the team in order to preserve a year of eligibility.
"It was really hard at first, practicing but not being able to play," said Cloud who also played basketball and baseball at Culver. "Plus, there were more people on our team than there were at Culver (High School)."
Cloud had a memorable career at Culver, earning 10 letters (three in both football and basketball plus four in baseball). He was on the 2A all-state football teams as a junior and senior, capping his prep career by playing in the East-West Shrine Game.
Even though his Culver career seems "a long time ago," Cloud recalled the football team's playoff win against Warrenton as a junior.
"It was the only state game I was a part of which we won," said Cloud who made 18 tackles in the 11-0 win.
Cloud was looking at several schools including Linfield and Whitworth (in Spokane where his older brother Scott played). Although Cloud didn't follow his older brother, he used his experiences to make a decision.
"Scott was a big help in what to look for in a school, and then what it would be like once I was there," Cloud said.
Football and academics were an equal priority according to the physical education major aiming to be a teacher. Cloud called WOU "a good fit."
It was also a good fit for the football team once Cloud grew into playing in college.
"It's a big adjustment period for anybody," Ferguson said. "He had to adjust to being around better athletes."
That's when the small-town work ethic took over, the coach said.
"In our off-season conditioning, Jeff was at every session and he did every rep," Ferguson said. "It showed in our morning conditioning drills (last spring) when Jeff beat everybody in our direction drills. He's not the fastest on our team, but nobody could beat him. His determination is a rare find."
Still, Cloud wanted to improve his speed for his senior season. He struck an bargain with Nate Lewis, a 2004 Culver grad (playing basketball and running track at Oregon Institute of Technology).
"If Nate helped me with my speed, I'd work with him on getting bigger by lifting weights," Cloud said.
Now at 220 pounds, Cloud has gained 35 pounds since high school. He gained 15 pounds in his redshirt year and another 20 pounds during the next four years.
Cloud went into this season knowing he would be a starter, and one of four team captains (others representing the defense, offense and special teams).
"Being a team captain says a lot about Jeff's character and leadership," Ferguson said.
The captains meet with the coaches once a week, Cloud said "to address concerns the players and coaches have, plus any changes the coaches are making. We're a relay between the players and coaches."
On the field, Cloud plays Will linebacker meaning he lines up opposite the tight end. The senior remains on the field when the Wolves trade linebackers for defensive backs.
In the nickel scheme (five defensive backs), Cloud lines up on the same side as the tight end. In WOU's dime look of six defensive backs, Cloud plays the middle linebacker.
"Jeff has to know all three positions and he does equally well," Ferguson said. "He's always in the right place making plays."
A big part of Cloud's positioning comes from watching film of the upcoming opponent. In an average week, Cloud totaled up more than eight hours of watching film with the team or fellow linebackers. He also watches film on his own.
"At Culver, we watched maybe 45 minutes of film a week," Cloud said. "Here, if a meeting lasts just 45 minutes we know something's wrong."
Little went wrong in a 4-0 start. The Wolves stopped rival Linfield's regular-season winning streak of 41 games with a 28-14 victory on Sept. 9. WOU is an independent NCAA Division II program, playing a combination of Division III programs such as Linfield and Division II schools.
Against Linfield, Cloud had six tackles with two solo stops. It was his team's first win against Linfield since 1997.
It isn't Cloud's favorite WOU game thus far. That is a week later when the Wolves beat Texas A & M-Kingston (36-10 on Sept. 16). It was WOU's first Division II opponent of the season, a program with among the most wins at that level. Cloud had a season-best nine tackles.
"They came in really cocky," Cloud said. "We were extremely focused even if it was just a week after beating Linfield."
The WOU winning streak was broken Saturday in a 29-21 home loss to Humboldt State set up by two interception fourth-quarter interception returns. Cloud had nine tackles in the game with two solo stops.
Cloud has five more regular-season games remaining, just two at home. WOU's home finale is Nov. 4 against Dixie State.
Then Cloud will be working on his teaching certificate. He plans to spend another year at WOU to earn a master's degree.
After that, Cloud plans to look for a teaching job east of the Cascades.
"I want to be where it doesn't rain every day in the winter," Cloud said. "I'm from the dry desert where we get snow, not rain all of the time."
It's been sunny most of this season for the senior linebacker.