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Cliff Williams / The Outlook Horseshoe Bend's Luke Jones was like a 12th man for the Generals, stepping up to fill in many holes throughout the season.

When Jeremy Phillips got hired as the football coach at Horseshoe Bend, he didn’t expect to win overnight. He knew it was going to be a process to build up the program, especially with such a young team.

But what he did expect to do was change the culture.

That really started Monday when Phillips started his first full offseason with the Generals. After coming off their final game Friday, the Generals were right back at it in the weight room two days later. Phillips said coming off a hard-fought win like it did against Prattville Christian to end the season has made it that much easier for Horseshoe Bend to show dedication in the weight room so quickly.

“This week of workouts, you can already tell it’s a different vibe,” Phillips said. “I’m not sure if it’s just confidence or what, but there’s definitely a difference.” 

With the offseason standard being somewhat lackadaisical the past few years at Horseshoe Bend, it wasn’t easy for Phillips to push this new mentality. But the Generals have bought in and are ready to work around the clock — or at least five days a week during the offseason — to continue to build upon what they already started this year.

That’s what Phillips means when he says he wants to change the culture.

“The offseason is really going to tell the tale for me,” Phillips said. “I told the guys, ‘This is when you win ballgames now. It’s not on Friday nights next year.’ And they’re really buying into that. If we have a good offseason that usually translates into a good season but if you have an offseason where guys just go through the motions, you’re generally not going to have a good season.

“But that’s a culture thing that we’re having to change around here because it hasn’t been hit on really hard. That’s something I felt like coming in as a first-year coach that I could change — the mentality of working out and conditioning.” 

Although Horsesehoe Bend finished with just two wins this season — including its double-overtime victory over PCA — the Generals know they improved this year and they return virtually all their players. They have just five seniors and their three-headed monster of Chandler McMath, Gavin Brazzell and Holt Tidwell, who accounted for the vast majority of the offense, are all only sophomores.

Juniors Levi Hadaway and Aubrey Hill were pleasant surprises for Phillips and with an entire offseason of work, they should be big contributors next season. Lupe Mancillas is another who had high expectations at linebacker but filled in well at tight end, and Phillips said Mancillas became one of the better blockers by the end of the season.

“(Freshman) Luke Jones was a guy that was kind of our 12th man as I would say,” Phillips said. “He really came on. He player cornerback, safety, running back, and in the last game, he had to play fullback. He was a guy that you could always count on. When somebody went down, he could fill in and not much would drop off.”  

So the future certainly looks bright for the Generals as many more than just those return. The new culture has also helped bring out more players and Phillips said he’s hopeful for around 40 on the roster next year.

Admittedly a bit discouraged looking back initially on the season, Phillips said once he really dug into the season overall, he saw exactly that progression he was looking for.

“When I went back and watched some games at the beginning of the year, it’s amazing how much better we got compared to the end of the year,” Phillips said. “It might not have shown on the scoreboard but our boys progressed at every position. Their skills got better; their knowledge of the game got better; the want to to win got a lot better. 

“What I love about it was it would’ve been easy to fold it in and give up when you know you don’t have any shot at playoffs but they did well at keeping a level head and keeping the grind going.” 

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.