New head coach Casey Dick is finally getting settled into his first head coaching position after taking his Pointers through spring, summer and now pre-season drills.
“I like the kids’ attitudes, their work ethic and their approach every day,” Dick said. “They know we’re not where we need to be, but they continue to improve every single day we come out here, and that’s all we can ask for.”
Van Buren’s roster rests at 100 players with 27 seniors, but only five of them were starters last year.
“We’re a pretty heavy junior class as far as kids that have had experience,” Dick said. “We had some seniors that are going to be able to set the foundation for us, which is what we need in order for any program to progress from where we’re at.”
Senior Christian Morrow started three games at quarterback last year and is ready to lead the team.
Talented sophomore Gary Phillips, who led the junior high team, last year will also see time at quarterback.
The two are multi-faceted and will be used in other ways as well, depending on who is at quarterback.
“We’ll do some things back there with our personnel,” Dick said. “We’ll try to move some people around and do some things.”
Van Buren hosts Elkins and Prairie Grove on August 21 for a preseason scrimmage at 6 p.m.
Van Buren opens the regular season at Alma on August 28.
The Alma Airedales will likely break a four-year trend behind a big, experienced offensive line this season.
That’s to have a running back actually lead the team in rushing as the Airedales break in a new quarterback.
“That’s what we’re hoping for, breaking in a new quarterback, is to take a little off the quarterback and be able to run the football and lessen the load on him,” Alma head coach Doug Loughridge said. “If we can turn around and hand it off, that would help a lot especially with those guys up front.”
College prospect Zac Henson leads a quartet of returning starters up front for the Airedales, which includes Levi Prestidge, Eli Aleck, and Darion Crawford. All four have looked good as August drills wrap up.
“The thing I like about those guys, yes, they’re big, but they’re athletic,” Loughridge said. “They’re athletic. They’re not just big jug-butt linemen. They can go against linebackers.”
Senior Nathan Alexander also continues to work his way back to health. He missed part of school in the spring and of course football drills in the spring and summer with an illness. Alexander started at center last year.
Josh Davis, Keegan Rosebeary and Logan Chronister have been taking snaps at running back.
“We feel good about all three of our tailbacks,” Loughridge said.
Tanner Shelton and Landon Blair continue to go back and forth at quarterback.
“Both of these guys, we feel good with both of them,” Loughridge said. “In the past, we’ve played two or three quarterbacks in our system with what we do. We’re fine with it. It’s a good problem to have, to have two guys that we feel really good about. Both of them have worked equally as hard and put in the time to be the leader on our offense. The good thing is they both have other areas on the football field that they’re valuable at.”
Alma will host Southside in a scrimmage game on August 20 at 6 p.m.
The Airedales then open the regular season at home against Van Buren on August 28.
“They’re a fun group,” Loughridge said. “They come to work every day. They have fun when we’re out here. They’re competitive. They want to be competitive on offense and be just as competitive on defense. When I got the job here at Alma, this is my first group as seventh graders. They’ve stayed together. A lot of them didn’t start as sophomores and juniors and have a chance to start as seniors.”
The Dragons’ home is getting a new look starting this season.
Construction was completed during the spring on a new fieldhouse/concession stand which sits behind the north end zone.
The previous building which housed the concession stand, and doubled as a spot for the visiting team was deemed unusable at the start of the 2017 season. That building was torn down. The visiting team will now occupy the Dragons’ original fieldhouse.
The new building also doubles as a tornado safe room.
The office for the coaches was the exact same size as the previous one. Next to it would be the laundry room/supply closet.
“When got to looking, there was all this space in the laundry room,” coach Tom Harrell said. “So we decided to make that our office and use the other room for supplies. We got plenty of room now.”
The Dragons won’t have a pre-season scrimmage this season but open on Aug. 31 at home against county rival Cedarville.
The Pirates aren’t wasting much time to start the season.
Cedarville will scrimmage Magazine on Aug. 17 and play its first game the following week (Aug. 24) at home with Johnson County Westside.
The Pirates head to Mountainburg for the Battle of North Crawford County on Aug. 31.
“It’s a good rivalry and it’s always a fun game,” said coach Max Washausen. “We’re already starting to look at both Westside and Mountainburg as we’re preparing to start the season.”
The Pirates have 26 players on the roster this season including the class of sophomores who won the 3A-4 Junior High Conference title.
Four of those players saw playing time in the final two games of the season.