Alma’s football team began preparing for next fall’s ascent to 6A with a renewed emphasis on physical play.
"There’s no guarantee how many games we’re going to win, but it is a guarantee we’re going to be physical," Alma head coach Doug Loughridge said. "We’re physical in every drill. Our offense is stacked against our defense so if our offense gets yard then they’ve earned it. We keep everybody in there. In our pass skeleton, we’re tackling. It’s competitive. We’re lucky enough that we’re dividing into four teams."
The Airedales, who join the 7A/6A-Central for the next two years, had 81 out for practice and were popping the pads with full contact drills.
"We don’t lay off," Loughridge said. "This is the time we lay the foundation. We’re going to hit, hit, hit."
Alma’s offense, which gained 4,511 yards and scored 399 points, should again be lethal with nine returning starters.
"We have nine starters back on offense," Alma head coach Doug Loughridge said. "We’re excited about who we have back. We lost our leading rusher, but we have some quality depth with our seniors and juniors coming up."
While Evan Burris took most of the varsity snaps last year at quarterback, Alex Beneux also proved to be a dangerous weapon at the position.
"Burris has progressed so much," Loughridge said. "If you rewind to a year ago and where he is now, he’s progressed so much with his leadership level and arm strength and his physical strength. Beneux is a totally different type quarterback. He’s smooth in our run game and throws a quality ball. He’s a good scrambler and gives the defense something to prepare for."
Burris completed 108 of 171 passes for 1,485 yards with five interceptions and 14 touchdowns.
In addition, junior Alex Key and talented sophomore Noah Dotson are working at the position. Dotson quarterbacked the junior high team to an 8-2 record last year. In a 20-7 win against Kimmons Junior High, Dotson threw for 121 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 176 yards.
"He was one of the best players in the River Valley last year as a ninth-grade quarterback," Loughridge said. "We have four guys we’re comfortable with."
Alma returns four offensive linemen, but did lose running back Malachi White to graduation.
Defensively, graduation really took a toll on the Airedales.
"Defensively, we lost four All-Staters so they’ll be hard to replace," Loughridge said. "We feel really good about our secondary. We have all of those guys back. We were young last year, but they’re back."
Also gone is Alex Burris, Asa Scruggs, Brooks Langdon and Junior Edwards on defense. Alex Burris, a three-time all-state selection, had 144 tackles (93 solo) and finished with a career of 368 tackles.
Scruggs had 43 tackles and recovered three fumbles last season. Edwards was second on the tackle list with 94 tackles and recovered three turnovers. Langdon had 58 tackles and a team-high 6.5 sacks.
White rushed for 1,134 yards and 18 touchdowns. He had four 100-yard games during the regular season including his best of 197 yards against Greenbrier in Week 9.
The Airedales used spring practice as an evaluation period for incoming sophomores and the juniors who didn’t play much last year when they went 10-3 and to the 5A semifinals.
"We’re evaluating and seeing what guys can contribute," Loughridge said. "We’re not real hyped up about getting our game plan in, we’re doing our basic stuff that we do from day one and seeing how these guys perform and what sophomores can play, what juniors have grown. We’re definitely seeing those guys and what they can do."
Alma concluded spring practice with their scrimmage game on Friday.