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Russellville's Nathan McAlister excels at many positions

By Staff
Scot Beard
Usually very talented athletes earn flashy nicknames.
Carnell Williams is better known as "Cadillac" while Dominique Wilkins was called the "Human Highlight Reel."
Russellville's Nathan McAlister, however, has avoided any elaborate monikers during his career with the Golden Tigers.
"They just call me Mac, Nate, Nathan or McAlister," McAlister said.
Maybe it is because McAlister does not stand out much while he is on the field.
He does not have a physical build that sets him apart from other players. He does not have elaborate displays of emotion after a big play – he trots back to the huddle and prepares for the next down.
He is not flashy, but the senior has been a major part of the Golden Tigers' success this year.
"He's a wolf in sheep's clothing," Russellville coach Doug Goodwin said. "He is really talented, smart and competitive."
McAlister has used those traits to put together some amazing statistics this season.
He is leading the Russellville receiving corps in three categories – catches (45), yards (751) and touchdowns (7).
He also set a school record against Athens with nine catches for 181 yards. Even if he had not caught a single pass that game, McAlister would still be the leading receiver on the team with nearly 100 yards more than the second-place wide out.
But McAlister does more than put points on the board, he also helps keep them off.
As a defender, McAlister is tied with Jake Ward for the most interceptions on the team with four. He has also recorded 36 total tackles, five of which were for a loss of yardage.
He has returned his four picks for 101 yards – another statistic in which he leads the team – and ran one of them back for a touchdown.
He has scored a total of eight touchdowns this season, good enough for second-best among the Golden Tigers.
Goodwin said McAlister's ability to make plays has been helpful to the coaching staff.
"He is extremely valuable," Goodwin said. "(His abilities) help us in game planning on both sides of the ball."
While McAlister has been making the defensive and offensive coaches jobs easier, he has also been helping out on special teams.
He leads Russellville in four special teams categories – kickoff returns (10), kickoff return yards (237), punt returns (12) and punt return yards (154).
"I just like being on the field," McAlister said. "As long as I am contributing, it's fun."
Apparently, McAlister likes saving the fun for important games. The game against Athens was a winner-take-all affair for the second seed in Class 5A, Region 8 and the home playoff game that accompanied it.
Even though he set a school record in that game, perhaps his biggest game of the season was last week's second-round game at Madison County.
With rain falling non-stop and the field in horrible condition, McAlister caught the game's first touchdown on a 13-yard pass from quarterback Joey Howe with less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Madison County tied the game late in the fourth quarter, but Russellville drove down the field and Howe hooked up with McAlister on a 32-yard scoring pass with 20 seconds remaining in the game to give Russellville a 13-6 lead.
When Madison County got the ball back, McAlister intercepted the ball on the first play to seal the win for the Golden Tigers.
He said he did not know how he managed to have his best games in high-pressure situations.
"That is how it works out," McAlister said. "You work hard every game and you have a big game when you have a big game."
One of the reasons could be that McAlister never seems rattled when the pressure is on.
Goodwin said that was a characteristic the coaching staff likes to see in players. He said football is an emotional game, but players have to know when to keep their emotions in check.
"Keeping a clear head is the mark of a seasoned player," Goodwin said.
In addition to his ability to stay level headed, there are other traits McAlister possess that Goodwin is happy to see.
"He is a coach's dream – he goes full speed, doesn't complain and has talent to boot," Goodwin said. "He has been a joy to coach."
McAlister is pleased with the season he has had. He said when the season began he wanted to pick up where he left off at the end of his junior year.
He is also pleased with his team's success, especially since many people doubted the team's abilities heading into the season.
"It's an accomplishment to make the playoffs," McAlister said. "It hasn't really sunk in yet, right now we are just playing football. At the end of the year (what we have done) will begin to sink in."
What the team has done includes an 11-1 record and a return to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2006.
A big part of that success has been McAlister.
"He is a really dependable kid," Goodwin said. "It is good to know if I have a job to get done there is someone to get it done."
Maybe they should start calling him Mr. Reliable.