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Back to normal? Bush, Alma hoping for spring, summer normalcy

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 

 

Like other coaches, and people in all professions, Rusty Bush didn’t get to do much of what he wanted to do in 2020. 

 

For the first-year Alma football coach, it was one step forward and two or three backward. 

 

The Airedales’ coach is ready to begin the second year of his Alma tenure — one without an unknown virus interfering with everyday life. 

 

“We’ve got a bunch of kids back,” he said. “It’s a time for us where we can instill the process that I want. The kids had a lot of questions as to why we did this or that. Kids have to have a ‘why?’ … that’s just the world we live in today. Now, I’m able to give them that ‘why?’

 

“We’re going to walk, and we’re going to crawl, and then we’re going to jog — because it’s going to make us a better football team.”

 

The Airedales (2-8) were playing well toward the end of the 2020 season. The struggling offense scored five times in a loss to Greenbrier, then the defense came up big in a late-season win over Farmington. 

 

Alma then nearly upset Texarkana in the first round of the state playoffs. 

 

Bush’s first season was one of trials and tribulations. Mostly, it was something different almost every day — COVID-19 forced players to miss games, games to get canceled, and on top of that Bush and staff had to deal with routine injuries, too. 

 

“In January (2020) it was really just more of an evaluation period for me — watching coaches, watching kids, and trying to hire some people,” Bush said. “I didn’t spend enough time with the kids; they were still going through off-season that the previous staff had installed.”

 

Then, the world as we knew it came to a screeching halt. 

 

On March 13, 2020, COVID-19 put the brakes on all spring sporting events. Students went virtual and spring practice and summer team camps didn’t happen. 

 

“Just about the time we were ready to make some changes, we got shut down,” Bush said. “When I sat down after the football season, it kind of hit me — we didn’t even get to start anything that I wanted to do, or what Zach (Jones) wanted to do. 

 

“This (off-season) really is the first one as far as me being the coach and coach Jones leading the strength and conditioning program that we get to go through.”

 

Alma will lose last season’s leading rusher, Logan Chronister, to graduation this spring. But the Airedales return a number of key players, including much of their offensive line. 

Hunter McAlister

 

Play-maker Conner Stacy and quarterback Hunter McAlister, both juniors, combined for 1,678 and a dozen touchdowns — roughly 63 percent of the team’s 2020 offensive output. 

Hunter McAlister and Conner Stacy

“This team ended the season on a really high note,” Bush said. “They had a lot of confidence going into (off-season). Hopefully, this gives them a little bit of sense of what we hope to become.

 

“This is a 365-day process now. The day you finish, the next week you’re starting all over.”

 

Defensively, the Airedales will have a number of key holdovers, including leading tackler Landon Burkhart (114 stops). Devin Ramos, Reagan Birchfield and Brady Noyes are back in the field, too.  

 

Both Birchfield and Noyes may get a shot of replicating Chronister’s offensive feats, too. 

 

Bush said last year’s group of seniors, such as Chronister, Seth Cole, Jaden Lelievre, Brayden Allen, and Jacob Coursey, among others, made an impression with the younger players.

 

“Every senior class is special,” Bush said. “From top to bottom, all those kids bought in, and that doesn’t happen everywhere. There were 15 of them (seniors) and I truly believe they bought into everything we did. I think their perseverance led to a lasting legacy with the younger players.”