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Smith, Airedales excited for 2021- 05/14/2021

By Kevin Taylor 

Alma Schools 


The cold sweat dripping from Nathan Smith’s forehead was the least of his concerns this week. The unseasonably cool May weather? Nah. 


It's almost football season. 


Nathan Smith’s happy to be plugging the defensive line again. 


The two-way Alma lineman, who may see more time on defense early in the 2021 season, will also bolster a mostly veteran offensive line he and his teammates weren't sure would get to play last year.


"The unknown was actually kind of scary last year — not knowing if we were going to get to play or not, especially during the off-season," Smith said. "This year's been great, just knowing that we can practice every day and knowing there's not going to be anything in our way such as that (COVID)."  


Smith and the Airedales have learned a lot about one another during the first of two weeks of spring football drills. 


"It feels great," he said. "With a new head coach, I feel like we've gotten a lot better with our conditioning."


Second-year coach Rusty Bush missed out on last season's spring drills. By the time the team began to formulate plans for a season last August, he was still getting to know his squad. 


By late October 2020, however, he was fully aware of the team's ever-improving offensive line.


Smith, in particular, has had a nice carry-over, Bush said. 


"Nathan, I can't say enough about him," Bush said. "I can't say enough about what he's done in the off-season. He's put on a good 15 to 20 pounds; he's 6-2 and 280 pounds. 


"Right now, he's whipping everybody out there in spring football." 


The team’s spirited practices have been crisp.


"A lot more energy than last year," Smith said. "Last year we were kind of in a slump; we were a little down on ourselves. We were almost kind of feeling sorry for ourselves in a sense, because of all the corona (virus) stuff that was going on. 


"But this year has made a big difference."


Smith will anchor an offensive line that includes four other holdovers from 2020, including book-end tackles Judson Parker and a healthy R.J. Billingsly. 


"I think we learned a good lesson last year," Bush said. "Last year, Seth Cole was the only one back, and we had those four juniors, and the fifth being (Zane) Hulbert, who was a sophomore, playing every game for us. You could tell, especially early and through the middle of the season, they just weren't ready.


"Being off because of COVID really hurt them."


By late October, things began to come together.


"Now they've all got 10 games under their belt," Bush said. "Really, with (Zane) Hurlbert, we've got five back. 


Along with Smith, who will split time at center with Dakota Stallings, the Airedales’ offensive line includes Hulbert at left guard and Ethan Thrift at right guard. 


"We have almost all of our starters back except for Seth Cole last year," Smith said. "I think we're pretty good this year. Coming into this year, we know what to expect.”


Bush expects Smith to be a key on the Airedales' defensive line, too. 


"He's got to really anchor us at nose guard until we have some other guys step up," Bush said. "He's going to play on offense, too, but we've really got to have him on defense the first part of the season. 


"The most impressive part about him during spring practice is he's making tackles seven and eight yards down the field."


The Airedales, 2-8 during Bush’s first season, came to life offensively over the final three games, pushing Texarkana to the limit during a 28-24 postseason loss to the Razorbacks.


"We just need to get used to hitting and get a little bit of contact going," Smith said. "We need to work on our technique and practice hard and play physically hard.” 


The Airedales have a plethora of quarterbacks back in 2021 as well, including holdover Hunter McAlister. Newcome Joe Trusty throws a nice pass, Smith said.


"He's new, and we're still getting to know him, but we're definitely getting there," he said. "Coming into this year, we know what to expect."