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File / The Herald Stanhope coach Brian Bradford said the players have rallied around new quarterback Jalen Walker, helping grow the team chemistry during the offseason.

From award-winning alumni to new jerseys to future college stars, there has been plenty of excitement around the Stanhope Elmore football program this summer. Mustang coach Brian Bradford said the energy has carried over from the weight room in the spring to the practices in the summer and he credits the improved team chemistry he has seen from the players over the last few months.

“We knew we loved what we had on the field but we wanted to grow closer as a team,” Bradford said. “That was our main goal for the summer and we’ve done that. From the coaches on down to the kids, everyone is playing a part and embracing that team-first mindset.”

Bradford said it has not been one specific thing that has brought the team closer together but he did say he noticed kids continuously getting excited for their teammates for any success during the offseason. Whether it was a new personal record in the weight room or committing to play college ball, the excitement seemed to never stop for the Mustangs. 

“Any time you have good events or good publicity is great for the program and the school,” Bradford said. “The ones getting the recognition are our hardest workers so everyone is excited for them. Our kids love to see anything good happen to their teammates.”

The Mustangs incorporated that team-first mindset when preparations for the 2019 season began in January but they started seeing the results of it on the field this summer. Bradford said he was consistently pleased with the team’s performances at 7-on-7 camps and OTAs but the cumulative improvements he saw from the start of June to the end of July exceeded his expectations.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with where our team is right now,” Bradford said. “They are leaps and bounds ahead of where I thought they would be. Everyone has really bought in and we have no individualists on this team so I think we have gelled better than we have in the past.”

While the summer has been one to remember for the Mustangs, they know these improvements may not matter if they do not translate to the field once the regular season arrives. Stanhope wraps up the summer period with two more days of workouts this week before transitioning into the fall.

“We had a really good summer,” Bradford said. “The kids really bought into everything we were teaching and they have shown a lot of great effort. Now, they’re just tired of going up against each other and ready for the season to get started.”

Stanhope has seen time against other competition with a number of camps this summer but after hosting teams for back-to-back days of OTAs last week, Bradford said he could tell his players wanted a taste of something different. And with less than four weeks until the season opener against Chilton County, the Mustangs will be getting that taste soon.

“Now we actually concentrate on what really matters which is football,” Bradford said. “All of those 7-on-7s and OTAs can be good to compete in but we’re ready to play real football again. They’re tired of this other stuff so they’re excited for August to be here.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.