Matt Miller has seen the work it takes to turn a long-struggling football program into a playoff team.
Miller, U.S. Grant's new head coach, played at Little Axe and spent the last four years as an assistant there, helping build the Indians from a cellar-dweller to a team that earned its first home playoff game last fall.
Now, the 27-year-old Miller has the same kind of plans for the Generals.
"I think we're on our way," he said. "We've got good numbers — not for 6A, but for this school. We've got 40-50 out for practice every day. The energy is there and they're buying into what we're trying to teach them."
And Miller is earning his players' respect by walking the thin line of being able to bond with his players and still push them to do what is expected of a winning program.
"He jokes around with us, knows what we're talking about," said left tackle Alex Levescy. "This is my third coach in three years and that can be tough.
"But coach Miller came straight to me and welcomed me and told me he needed me to be a leader. It got me going real quick."
Miller installed a coaching staff with a good mix of youth, experience and energy, led by offensive coordinator Charles Welde and defensive coordinator Dan Burgess.
"As long as everybody comes to practice and works hard, we're moving in the right direction," senior center and emotional leader Kyle McClanahan said. "And what I've seen since coach Miller came here, everybody wants to work hard and do what the coaches say."
Welde is installing a multiple-receiver offense that will utilize some spread passing aspects for quarterback Ryan Ward and still emphasize the team's strength at running back with Leandre Bailey, Derrick Young and GaVonte Bonds.
"We've got a lot of talent at running back," Bailey said. "I like the offense. It's a lot different than last year. I feel good about this team. We're gonna do some damage."
The road to a turnaround won't be smooth. The Generals have won four games in the last six years since moving up to Class 6A and haven't won two in a season since playing in 5A in 2003.
School size isn't the team's issue. According to the OSSAA, U.S. Grant's average daily membership for 2009-10 was 1,563.04. That ranked 21st-largest in the state, ahead of Midwest City, Muskogee and Stillwater — and nearly 300 students larger than Del City, currently the smallest school in Class 6A.
"This team could go pretty far. We have a lot of potential at our school," junior lineman Christian Nicholson said. "If we could get people to come out, we could do good.
"It's hard to get them out here, but after they see how the coaches teach, they usually stay out."
District 6A-2 coaches' poll 1. Lawton (9-3) 2. Mustang (7-4) 3. Edmond North (8-3) 4. Edmond Santa Fe (3-7) 5. Del City (7-3) 6. Westmoore (3-7) 7. Putnam City (3-7) 8. U.S. Grant (1-9) 2009 record in parentheses