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— Chris Norton will attempt to revive the Rose Bud Ramblers football program this season.

Norton was hired to replace former coach Mike Perez, who resigned following the 2016 season. Rose Bud shut down its senior high program after four games because of a rash of injuries.

“We felt that for our kids’ safety, it was the best move,” Rose Bud Superintendent Chris Nail said in September.

Norton comes to Rose Bud after being head coach at Lakeside High School in Lake Village. He led the Beavers to a 4-7 record and their first playoff appearance in a decade. They ended a 16-game losing streak under Norton.

“We did some good things there,” Norton said, “but I was looking for a little bit different environment. We’re excited to be up here. We think there is a lot of potential to get the program on the right track. There is a lot of support among the administration and community. We feel like it’s going to be a pretty good fit.”

The Ramblers finished spring practice last week. Norton has split time between Lake Village and Rose Bud as his new team was participating in spring football.

“The numbers are pretty strong,” he said. “We’ve got 29 out. We’ve got a couple more nursing some injuries from the spring. We plan to play with 28 to 32 guys. We’re OK with that. We’ve got kids working hard, doing things they need to do. We don’t believe numbers will be a problem.”

Norton will also be the head coach for the junior high team.

“I’ve primarily been at the small-school level,” he said. “[Coaching both teams] comes with the territory. The setup is good here, as far as athletic periods during the game and getting everybody to get their work in.”

Norton is expecting 37 players in eighth and ninth grades for his junior high team this fall.

Norton described Rose Bud’s team as going through “a perfect storm.”

“A lot of things came together, and it was unfortunate for everybody,” he said. “Those things happen from time to time. They happen to really strong programs. We don’t see it being a continuing problem. We’re excited to get up here and get going.”

Norton was head coach at West Memphis Christian and Marvell before going to Lake Village.

“I’ve got a special place in my heart for those kids [in the Delta],” he said. “Some people just don’t understand the challenges to get on the field. We’re really proud of some of the things we did at those places, but it was time to look for something different. There is only so much time that you can spend in those situations. You don’t get a whole lot of support. Not that anybody is at fault; it is just the way it is in those Delta schools.”

Rose Bud Athletic Director Danny Starkey said Norton is a good fit for the Ramblers football program.

“He is going to bring an excitement to the game,” Starkey said. “He believes in playing fast and making things very simple so the kids can react more and not have to think about things going on.

“So far with the spring practice, the kids have really bought in, working extremely hard. I know when I have talked to the kids, they were like, ‘We’re really having fun. We’re working harder than we have ever worked.’ So I think that is a lot.”

Norton is a 2006 graduate of Warren High School. He played for legendary coach Bo Hembree.

“[Coaching] is something I always wanted to do,” Norton said. “I had the benefit of playing for some really good coaches down there. I’ve got an immense amount of respect for Bo Hembree. He is one of the best coaches in the state, regardless of classification. He gets the most out of his kids and is consistently competitive. That’s what we want to do.

“I’m really excited about some of the things we can accomplish here.”

Norton said the Ramblers will run the Spread on offense.

“We believe in spreading the field and attacking the opponent vertically,” he said. “We’ve got some kids here, some basketball guys, with some height. We’ve got three or four guys 6 feet and above playing wide receiver for us. We’re young in a lot of spots, but talented.”

Norton said his team will try to dictate the tempo of the game.

“I’m an offensive-line guy, so I’m excited to work with a big group of offensive linemen,” he said.

On defense, Norton said, the Ramblers will run a 32 Stack.

“We’ll create a little bit of pressure,” he said. “The kids seem to be taking to it pretty well so far.”

Norton received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a master’s degree in physical education from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Norton has a son, Cade, 10.

“We’re excited to get up here in this area from that respect, too,” he said. “There are good schools in the area and a really supportive community.”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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