By DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Count Alma head football coach Rusty Bush happy to be among the four Arkansas high school programs that will officially kickoff the state’s 2022 regular season on Tuesday night.
The Airedales will host arch-rival Van Buren at 7 p.m., the same time that Prescott and Bismark will meet at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
“Number one, the excitement of the first football game of the season is there and all of these kids have been working toward it since January, with the offseason and then spring football and all the summer-time stuff and finally fall camp,” Bush said.
“It doesn’t really matter who you play, if you are any kind of high school football player, you get excited about your first game. But then, it’s like I tell there kids all the time, then we double down by playing our arch-rival that is just 10 minutes down the road, it’s at your place and there is not another football game going on in the area whatsoever.
“We know it is going to be an electric atmosphere and it is what Arkansas high school football is all about.”
The two rivals will be looking to break losing streaks with Alma (3-7 in 2021) having lost its final three games last season and Van Buren its last five contests in a 4-6 campaign.
Van Buren won 31-20 last season in last season’s battle and has won the four straight contests between the two with Alma’s last victory in the series being a 21-14 home one in 2017.
“The season was not obviously what we wanted, not the way we wanted to finish, but I felt like offensively we were doing some really good things at the very end,” Bush said. “It was just defensively we couldn’t stay on the field and gave up way too many points.”
Alma, who retuns six starters on offense and four on defense, gave up an average of 37.2 points per game and that includes a 14-0 shutout win over Clarksville.
“We went into the offseason and we made some changes and on that side of the ball and they are playing with a lot more confidence,” Bush said. “That is where we had to get them. It is such a hard deal with high school kids.
“When you kind of give up so much defensively, it is hard to get them back and rally them back. But luckily it was several months ago and we went in and made some changes and the kids are believing in what we are doing defensively. We are happy where we are and we just want to continue to build on what we finish doing offensively last season.”
The Airedales are led offensively in 2021 by senior quarterback Joe Trusty (6-2, 215), who has a 4.0 grade point average and has already put up a 30 on his ACT.
Trusty passed for a school-record 2,192 yards and 19 touchdowns last season while also rushing for 554 yards and six more scores.
“Our quarterback is back and he set two or three offensive records and we feel like we have some young kids that can really catch the football and feel like our running game will be twice as good as it was last year,” Bush said. “ We feel like we only had two running backs last year and we think we probably have five guys that can step out on the field right now.”
Trusty is all about football according to his head coach.
“I think the biggest thing for Joe is that he is such a student of the game,” Bush said. “He only plays football. This is kind of what he eats, sleeps and breathes. This guy is football 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“He grew up in Greenwood and was coached under some great people there so when he came here (in 2021), he was so far above a lot of out guys just in football knowledge, it was just a breath of fresh air to see that.
“He could get on the board with any of our coaches. He just had to get used to our terminology and get used to what we feel like our kids could do at Alma. He’s done that and has kind of carried out football team for sure.
“He is a dual threat guy. He can really spin it and threw for right at 2,220 yards…The majority of those were in the last five games of the year.”
Trusty is likely to carry the football more this season than he did the last per Bush.
…He is going to give us another dynamic running the football,” Bush said. “We didn’t run him one time in the scrimmage against Ozark, but he is going to be a big part of our run game.”
Van Buren elevated defensive coordinator Moe Henry to head coach after Crosby Tuck left to go into private business.
Bush has a lot of respect for Henry, who was an assistant to current UCF head football coach Gus Malzhan at Springdale and also coached at Shiloh Christian.
“I have seen Coach Henry’s defenses play for a long time and hew is a superior football coach,” Bush said. “He has just slid over to the head coach’s chair and I know that you are going to get a ton of great effort out of his football team.
“Defensively they are going to cause you some problems with what they do. He is a guy that has been on a lot of really good staffs…I jut see them continue to do what they have been doing and their kids are going to play hard.”
Bush is excited about his team that will battle heavyweights Shiloh Christian, Farmington, Harrison and others in the Class 5A-West race.
“We have got some good players coming into the program, we have good guys coming back and we are excited about what the future holds,” Bush said.
Photo courtesy of Alma football