Ironically it was during a basketball game that Horseshoe Bend football coach Jeremy Phillips first met Lee Wayne.
The Generals were playing LaFayette, and Holt Tidwell hit a 3-point shot and started chanting his name.
“After the game, I talked to him and asked, ‘What is Lee Wayne? What is that,’” Phillips said. “He said, ‘Coach, that’s my alter ego. When Lee Wayne’s in play, we’re ready to go.’”
Whether it’s creating an alternate persona or just clowning around, Tidwell is never afraid to lighten the mood for his teammates when it’s called for. The Generals’ fourth-year starter has been a contributor at the varsity level for football since eighth grade, and since that time has developed into an incredibly effective running back and linebacker.
“I know when to cut it up and when not to,” Tidwell said. “I try to keep everybody laughing. Football is fun, it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, and I try to help everybody remember that.”
Tidwell is enjoying his final year with Horseshoe Bend before pursuing a career in the hospitality field, perhaps serving as a hunting guide and having his own ranch.
A church friend was the first person to start calling Tidwell “Lee Wayne,” apparently originating from a movie that Tidwell couldn’t recall the name of. What started as an inside joke between the two of them grew into a phenomenon for every sport Tidwell played.
The Generals’ star said just about everyone calls him Lee Wayne now.
“I think when I’m Lee Wayne, it’s more of a fun guy, trying to keep everyone in good spirits around me,” Tidwell said. “When I’m Lee Wayne, everyone is comfortable around me. They’re focused in, but they’re also having fun at the same time.”
It’s hard to find a better way to describe Tidwell’s personality.
He’s an aggressive, driven, hard working football player, Phillips said, but his brand of locker room leadership is only hard nosed when it needs to be. He’s mostly focused on keeping his team’s spirits high.
“He’s done a good job of taking these younger guys and building them up to be that person that’s gonna step into that role next year,” Phillips said. “He’s really taken it upon himself to teach these younger guys how to go about things and how to see things the way he sees them now.”
His on-field development has been steady.
Tidwell is the type of athlete that enjoys flying around the field and making plays, per Phillips, but as an underclassmen sometimes this tendency broke the structure of the Generals’ defense.
“Something I think he’s gotten better at is understanding the whole scheme, why he’s gotta do this or why we have him blocking a certain way,” Phillips said. “His different fits inside the defense. My first year, I thought a lot of times he was out of control a lot, and he’d make plays but sometimes he’d overrun plays.”
Eventually he learned to channel his hair-on-fire pursuit of the football into the right places and excel as a defender.
On offense he spent 2019 and 20 playing quarterback for Horseshoe Bend. He was called upon to run the ball often in the Generals’ wishbone offense, which utilizes a lot of option plays for quarterbacks.
The throwing part of playing quarterback, according to Tidwell, wasn’t his strong suit.
Thus, Tidwell happily moved to running back as the best fit for his team and has enjoyed his production in the role.
“It really hasn’t been hard, because I still run the ball just as much as when I had the ball in my hands at quarterback,” Tidwell said.
Of course, his leadership is irreplaceable.
“Most times as he goes, the team goes,” Phillips said. “I think a lot of Holt. He works hard at what he does, he gives maximum effort every game and every practice.”
Off the field a couple of Tidwell’s top interests are hunting and fishing.
He found a way to pursue these passions at Auburn University, one of just two schools in the country to offer Wildlife Enterprise Management as a degree.
“I’ve loved it ever since I heard about it, so that’s what I’m gonna do,” Tidwell said.
Tidwell and the Generals come off their bye week this week to face B.B. Comer Sept. 30.