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Bush, Airedales excited about off-season

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


Alma football coach Rusty Bush is eager for two things — spring practice and a resolve of the pandemic. 


Let them play. 


The first-year Alma football coach spoke passionately this week about spring practice, how many offensive weapons he'll have in 2021, and going through a routine spring and summer without being stopped in his tracks by a pandemic no one saw coming. 


"I think we learned to persevere through some things," Bush said. "I'm sure there are some teams who had some different problems and issues, but I've never been around a team that went through what these guys did — and then were able to perform like they did at the end of the year.


"That says a lot about their character and a lot about their perseverance."


Alma (2-8) won its regular season finale before dropping a tough 28-24 playoff decision to unbeaten Texarkana.


Bush will have a number of key holdovers in 2021, including quarterback Hunter McAlister and play-maker Conner Stacy. 


McAlister threw for 668 yards and six touchdowns. He started the final three games, throwing for four touchdowns 49-35 loss to Greenbrier and tossing a TD and running for another in last week's loss to Texarkana. 


Stacy caught a touchdown and darted 10 yards for another during the Airedales' loss to the Razorbacks. In all, he accounted for 876 yards and six touchdowns in 2020. 


Defensively standouts Landon Burkhart, Reagan Birchfield and Brady Noyes will have a year under their belts as well. Burkhart led the team with 114 tackles and Birchfield tied senior Nathan Whalen for the team lead in tackles for loss with six.


Through it all, the Airedales had to overcome the loss of star running Logan Chronister and the quarantine of players — a fact that reared its head throughout the 2020 season. 


"Most of the time, you don't get teenagers that can withstand the way things were going in the middle of the season," Bush said. "Not only with the losses, but with the uncertainty of whether a guy (teammate) would be here. I think it shows a lot of maturity on their part."

Alma will have a bulk of its offensive line back for 2021. 


Nathan Smith, R.J. Billingsley, Ethan Thrift and Judson Parker played throughout, and sophomore Zane Hurlburt joined the fray as well while stepping up for injured players. 


"Ethan Thrift, R.J., Smith. and Judson were the solid four, and then Hurlburt ended up playing quite a bit because of some injuries and quarantines,” Bush said. "We knew going into the year that it was going to be a rebuild, but we knew at the end of it we will have a chance to be pretty good there for next year."


In addition to starting on Fridays, players like Hurlburt played some on Monday nights, too. 


"A lot of them played 10 varsity games, but I also played them in a lot of JV (junior varsity) games, too," Bush said. "It's encouraging with the experience they got."


In addition to McAlister and Stacy, the Airedales will have the offensive services of Birchfield and Noyes for another two years. Junior Devin Poole, who played mostly defense but also carried the ball some when starting running back Logan Chronister was out, is also back in the fold. 


"We're ready to get back to some team camps and play some 7-on-7 and grow as a team that we weren't able to do because of some obstacles," Bush said. "Getting back to a normal routine would be huge."