Alma was supposed to have the first game on Thursday. With one week to prepare before conference play, both team and its new head coach, Eric Marsh, are ready to tackle the season.
While Marsh has been with Alma since 2012, this is his first stint as a head coach for the freshman program, replacing Alex Burris, who joined the high school staff with new head coach Rusty Bush.
Marsh’s is an offense-oriented coach and has worked with Alma’s offenses for the past four years.
Marsh graduated from San Antonio, Texas, but has roots in the River Valley as his dad graduated from Van Buren. He eventually found is way to Arkansas Tech, where he graduated, and the rest has been an Alma Airedale.
With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down spring practices and summer workouts, Marsh fell back on the example set by his mother, who is on the staff of a church: The best thing is to be the best version of yourself.
“It’s something that they do with the ministry and that’s what I want to do for these guys,” said Marsh. “I know it’s hard. It’s hard for me. Normally, I would go to each of my player’s home and talk with them and their parents to begin to build that relationship with them. I couldn’t do that so we have to work really hard this year.
“Our numbers are down, but I suspect everyone else is as well. We’re trying to hold with the kids we have. These guys are all-in and committed to playing football and being an Alma Airedale.”
The team has around 30 players this season, which low for the squad.
“These freshmen have risen to the challenge and they’re ready to be football players,” said Marsh. “We got the right kids. We’re going to do it right. We’re gonna fight and claw to help them change their lives. This game has been a lifesaver for some and we need it now more than ever.”
Jackson Dailey is slated to start at quarterback for the Airedales with Ian Rhodes lining up with him as one of the running backs. Carlos Gonzalez and Kayden Lamb will also see time as a running back.
“Jackson has a great arm. He’s coming out of his shell and is a smart football player,” said Marsh. “Ian is smart, a leader, and has a great attitude. Carlos is a very good football player. He’s quiet but a winner. Kayden is a great role player, a good teammate, and works very hard in the weight room.”
The offensive and defensive backfield will be comprised of Drake Stogsdill, Japheth Barnhill, Kaydin Minshull, and Brayden Welch.
“Drake is a great leader, a weight-room animal, and a very good receiver,” Marsh said. “Japheth had a great summer. He’s talented and needs to keep working hard. Brayden gives out a great effort. Kaydin is quick, tough and has the best hands on the team.”
Also helping out on offense will be both Trenton Thompson and Kolby Adams at tight end and Trey Bowen at fullback.
Linebackers will include Thompson, Lamb, Gonzalez, Minshull, and Bowen.
“Trenton [Thompson] loves to hit and is made to be a linebacker,” Marsh said. “He’s grown up a lot this summer.”
Joining the squad this season is Carson Trusty who will be playing both tight end and defensive end.
The offensive line will be comprised of Zach Millsap at center, Jacob Moore, Harper Osborn, Richard Taylor, and Clayton Wingfield.
“Clayton had a great off-season. He’s grown a lot and works at being the best he can,” Marsh said. “Richard has worked very hard in the offseason and Harper’s best is as good as anyone. Jacob has become more aggressive and is such a coachable kid. Zach is a leader, humble, and a hard worker.”
Osborn and Jacob Owens, who’s “physical and plays hard,” will see time on the defensive line.
Alma travels to Gravette next week before starting conference play on Sept. 10.
The River Valley Conference added Pea Ridge to the league which gives only two nonconference games for each team.
Other home games this season include Kimmons (Oct. 15), and the Airedales close out the season at home with Greenwood (Oct. 29) and Van Buren (Nov. 5).
Away games begin with a three-game road trip starting with Darby (Sept. 17), Harrison (Sept. 24), and Chaffin (Oct. 8). Alma’s open date is Oct. 1. The final road game is at Pea Ridge (Oct. 22).
All River Valley Conference games begin at 6 p.m. this season.
“It’s going to be very competitive and we have to make plays,” Marsh said. “Every week is a challenge and we have to play every week, but these are one of the better groups of freshmen to come through in a while and there’s a good group of eighth graders coming up, so we’re going to be competitive for a while.”