photo by RACHEL RODEMAN
Alma running back Malachi White (23) carries the ball against Greenbrier game on during a 5A West Conference game on Oct. 26, 2012, in Alma.
Doug Loughridge took his new team, the Alma Airedales, through the spring drills for the first time and liked what we saw.
“I’ve been very, very impressed this spring with our practices, and our numbers are up,” Loughridge said. “We have really good numbers going into summer with 88 kids.”
Loughridge left Charleston, where he won 68 games and two state championships in six seasons, to take over at Alma after Todd Dilbeck resigned. He took advantage of the large group during the two weeks of drills to see his team for the first time on the football field.
“With those numbers, we’ve been very fortunate to be able to divide up into two teams this spring with a green team and a gold team so everybody is learning a defensive position and an offensive position,” Loughridge said. “Our practices have been physical.
“That first day of practice we had a lot of pads popping. The kids are going home with bruises and worn out from our two hours. Our practices have been very upbeat and uptempo.”
Loughridge inherits a solid senior class, but he also likes the underclassmen.
“It’s a good group,” Loughridge said. “There are a lot of returning starters in it. The junior group has a lot of good linemen, and the sophomore group with 40 players is a really good class coming off that 10-0 season. There’s a good mix of these three really good classes.”
One of the immediate changes for the Airedales is the switch back to a 4-3 alignment after two seasons in the 3-4.
“They had run the 4-3 previously,” Loughridge said. “It is not a big change. That’s been the No. 1 priority this spring is to be better defensively.”
Linebacker Alex Burris heads the defense and the two-time All-Stater will likely anchor the middle.
Offensively, there will be hopefully more of the same for the Airedales, who started cranking it up as the season went on last year.
“Offensively, we’ll do the same thing we did last season,” Loughridge said. “If you notice by the numbers, they were playing their best offensively toward the end of the season. Against Fairview, they had 500 yards of offense and 90 snaps so they’re getting it.
“Hopefully, we can springboard that into spring. We’re really focused on being more physical on the offensive line and getting our best five guys up there. We’re getting to a more old-school mentality.”
Players spent the spring battling for several positions, including a big one on the offense.
“We have a really good quarterback race going right now,” Loughridge said. “That’s been a tight race all spring, and it will probably go into August.”
Malachi White is a returning starter at running back and could be a top player in Alma’s final season in the 5A-West before moving up to 6A.
“He’s been an electric player,” Loughridge said. “We just have to get him to lower his head and go between the tackles a little more.”
Curtis Lloyd and Jake Marrs also ran the ball well during spring practices.
Alma concluded spring practice with its green and gold game on Thursday.
Mountainburg is converting lineman Josh Skattebo (5-11, 300) into a quarterback this year and working on establishing a physical running game with three returning players in the offensive line.
“For as big as Josh is, he is a remarkable athlete,” Mountainburg coach Tom Harrell said. “He can run and he can throw it. He is a load and pretty tough to bring down.”
Cedarville has a whole different attitude from two years ago when the Pirates didn’t win a game.
Cedarville was 6-5 last season after losing one-score games to Charleston and Paris and in the first-round of the playoffs. This spring, 54 players were out and Cedarville has 26 seniors led by senior quarterback Dylan Shelton, who passed for 2,500 yards and 22 TDs last year.
“We have come a long way and are looking forward to this season,” head coach Mark Shelton said. “Our weight program has paid off and we are much stronger and more physical and we have been building depth. Last spring, we had to go 1s vs 2s, but were able to split he sides up evenly and you couldn’t tell a lot of difference.”