By Don Lowe 

   Second-year Head Coach Cody Hilburn’s Seneca Indians high football team put together a memorable 2022 while claiming a coveted Big 8 West regular-season conference championship. They followed that up with a district title on their way to reaching the state tournament semifinals and finishing with a terrific 11-2 overall record. 

   Coach Hilburn heaped all the praise on the young men who suited up for Seneca every Friday night. 

   “First and foremost, the credit goes to the players,” Coach Hilburn emphasized. “In 2021, when I got to Seneca, we had a group of seniors that bought into what we were trying to do and never questioned anything. We were fortunate to win the district championship in 2021, and the momentum carried over into the off-season leading to this year. 

   “Our current seniors did a great job of leading our football team and building on last year’s success by winning a conference championship and a district championship for the second year in a row, along with a final four appearance.” 

   Overall, Coach Hilburn couldn’t have been more thrilled with his team’s dedication throughout ’22, and he said, “I think this year’s group really committed to the weight room in the off-season and collectively got bigger, faster and stronger. 

   “We have a team full of kids that show up ready to work every day and strive to get 1% better each time they’re on the field. We never have to coach attitude and effort, which makes coaching them enjoyable.” 

   As good as things were for the Indians last fall, that’s not to say there wasn’t adversity along the way. “I think after our success last year, the expectation was sky high in Seneca. Sometimes, the pressure of living up to that expectation can be tough on high school kids. 

   “We went undefeated until the last regular-season game of the year. I really think that loss may have been the best thing that happened to us leading into the playoffs. It almost felt like it took some of the pressure off and allowed our kids to relax and just play football.” 

   Regardless of any difficulties from week to week, Coach Hilburn’s talented bunch never lost focus. “Football season is long. It starts in June, and we played almost until December. It takes a high level of commitment from everybody on the team. 

   “These guys showed up every day with the intent to do things the right way, both on and off the field, which is all you can ask as a football coach.” 

   While greatness on the gridiron is all well and good, Coach Hilburn most appreciated the way his young men handle themselves in and out of uniform, 365 days a year. 

   “I think the most rewarding part of coaching in Seneca is the type of kids we have here,” Coach Hilburn said. “We have high-character kids that treat others with respect and understand the process of winning football games. 

   “As a coach, winning football games is fun, but that’s not the most important part of the job. You try to teach kids more than just football and provide them with tools that will help them go on to be great husbands and dads someday.” 

   Whatever Coach Hilburn and his staff are doing is working quite well these days with plenty of success taking place on the football field as well as in the classroom. And that’s a championship-caliber combination.  

Seneca Indians Senior High Football Team Fast Facts

Head Coach: Cody Hilburn, 39 years old

Spouse: Alicia Hilburn

Children: Hadley Hilburn, 12 years old; Emery, 10 years old; and Baker, 4 years old   

College Alma Mater: Graduated from Missouri Southern State University in 2006   

Degree: Bachelor of Science in Education/Master’s in Educational Leadership        

High School Alma Mater: Graduated from Seneca High School in 2001     

Favorite Food: Steak

Favorite Football Sports Movie: Remember the Titans

Favorite Football Head Coach: Alabama Crimson Tide Head coach Nick Saban      

2022 Season Recap: Finished 11-2 overall, including 8-1 in Big 8 West conference play and 2-0 in district post-season action with a 42-0 rout of Hollister in a semifinal-round showdown, followed by a 25-21 title game conquest of Mt. Vernon. In the state playoffs, Seneca defeated Liberty 28-14 before falling to Lamar 56-14 in the semifinals.