A panel of three including a nationally recognized retired coach, former Payson High School coach and the Coolidge Athletic Director have selected the 1998 Class 3A All-State football team. Payson competes in the 3A conference and had seven players tapped.
They are Hunter Walden, Marc Bennett, Ty Hulbert, Josh Barnhart, Mike Barker, Jeremy Hoff and Jimbo Armstrong.
It is the first year the all-state team has been chosen in such a manner. In earlier years, high school coaches lobbied one another for selections and mailed in ballots to the Arizona Republic where the results were calculated. Input from paper's sports writers was considered before the winners were announced.
Republic prep sports editor Richard Obert said his editors had decided to no longer help select or publish all-state teams from each conference.
Rather, he said, an All-Arizona First and Second Team involving players from all classifications, 1A through 5A, is chosen. "Honorable Mention "and "Best of the Rest" players are also named.
Some 3A conference officials and coaches wanted to keep the all-state concept alive and opted to select a committee comprised of Tot Workman, Dan Dunn and Larry Delbridge to choose the players.
Workman, formerly of Snowflake and Round Valley, was a National High School Coach of the Year winner and is a member of the Arizona Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Dunn coached Payson High School from 1992-94 and is now an assistant at Mesa Red Mountain High School.
Prior to his years in Payson, he was head coach at Mesa College and before that he led Gilbert High School to a state championship.
Delbridge, the athletic director at Coolidge High, was a long-time Bears football coach that led the school to statewide prominence in the 1980s.
Both Dunn and Delbridge are also former Arizona State University football players.
The trio of coaches, Dunn said, met last week to hash over the accomplishments of the nominees and to choose the honorees.
Those selected to the All-State First Team Offense were Walden, Bennett, Hulbert and Barnhart.
Walden highlighted the choices by being named the 3A conference's "Offensive Player of the Year."
Horns tapped to the First Team Defense included Barker, Hoff and Armstrong.
No Longhorn players were named to the second team but Ryan Lorentz and Cade Bradley were chosen honorable mention.
The "O" stars
As offensive player of the year, Walden beat out his long-time friend Nate Jackson of Blue Ridge High School for the honor.
The two were elementary school buddies in Payson before Jackson moved to Lakeside in 1993 to attend BRHS.
As the starting quarterback for the Yellow Jackets the past three seasons, Jackson had a stellar career that resulted in state championships in both his sophomore and junior seasons.
But in 1998, it was Walden's turn to shine and reap the rewards of a state crown.
Despite engineering a ground-oriented, power-option offense, Walden managed to post impressive credentials through the airways completing 77 of his 144 passing attempts for 1,438 yards and 16 touchdowns. He threw only five interceptions and had a computer-generated quarterback rating of 110.8.
When called upon for an option keeper, he ran 89 times for 485 yards and 15 TDs. His yards per carry average of 5.4 was one of the best in the state for quarterbacks.
One of his most impressive outings occurred during the 29-20 state championship victory Nov. 28 over Blue Ridge when he rushed for 119 yards on 19 carries and completed six of 11 passes for 136 yards.
Walden said a great deal of his success was due to the team's veteran offensive line.
"They protected me all year long and opened the holes. In (past) years it wasn't always like that," he said.
A favorite receiver during the season was Bennett, a fellow senior, who held down the tight end slot.
Bennett had 14 receptions for 364 yards and three touchdowns. His longest catch was for 54 yards.
His receiving credentials might have been better had the Horns been forced to throw more.
But, with a potent ground game and lopsided scores lighting up the board, the Horn offense often didn't need to air it out.
Bennett was also known as a punishing blocker in the Horns run offense.
As the Horns starting right guard the past two seasons, Hulbert employed technique, finesse and sheer hitting power to help clear the path for leading rusher Timmy Bunting and Walden.
He was a vital cog on the Horn "O" line that dominated the line of scrimmage most every game this season.
Barnhart, a starting flanker, was chosen to the all-state team as a kicker.
His accomplishments included booting 39 of 49 conversion attempts. On field goals, he was two of three from inside the 29-yard-line, three of nine from 30-39-yards and one of three from 40-49 yards.
On kickoffs he averaged a highly commendable 55.2 yards on 65 attempts. Seventeen of his boots flew into the end zone.
His 107 points made him the team's leading scorer.
With 166 tackles, 19 of which were solo, Armstrong -- an inside linebacker -- was the Horns ace defender. He also had seven quarterback hurries, three sacks, one interception and a fumble recovery.
The good news on the Horn front is that Armstrong -- a junior -- will return to the Payson fold next season possibly bigger, faster and better.
Hoff was named to the all-state team as a defensive back. As a Longhorn, he played on both sides of the ball but excelled as a pass defender. He finished with 35 tackles and was the team leader in interceptions with eight. He also had four passes broken up.
His greatest moment probably came in the fourth quarter of the state championship game when he deflected a Jackson pass attempt and then intercepted a last gasp throw to seal the Jackets' fate.
As a defensive tackle, Barker, was a constant thorn in the side of opposing quarterbacks. His four sacks tied him with Eric Hilgendorf for the team lead. He also had 75 tackles, seven hurries and two fumble recoveries.
In the all-state selection process, Dunn said, Barker's exploits earned him strong consideration for defensive player of the year.
The honor, however, went to Coolidge defensive back Lee Webber.
Lorentz, a senior inside linebacker was the Horns second leading tackler with 151. He also had four passes broken up, nine hurries, two sacks and two fumble recoveries.
As a junior defensive end, Bradley finished with 56 tackles, one fumble recovery, and one quarterback hurry.