The thrills of summer were already fading Thursday for Jamie Peace and Abigail Reisdorf, who spent the morning at Payson High School talking about boys and the promise of their senior year while watching football practice from the shade of a juniper tree.
"It's cool because I'm kind of at the beginning of my life," said Reisdorf, who spent the summer working at Chaparral Pines Golf Club in between jaunts to Italy and Washington, D.C. "I'm making all my decisions where I'll live, where I'll go to college. It's exciting. I'll go to my 10-year reunion and think, 'Oh my gosh!'"
The girls are among the school's peer counselors who reported to school a week early to help freshmen make the transition to high school life. They drifted over to the football field on a break and talked dreamy-eyed about their futures.
"I'm going to go to the Art Institute in Phoenix to study computer animation," said Peace, who attended a workshop at the institute this summer, in addition to holding down a job at Wal-Mart and competing in a basketball tournament in Las Vegas.
Reisdorf is bound for the University of Arizona in Tucson to study architecture.
Both said they were anxious to move on to college, but were trepidatious about leaving their friends at Payson High.
"I'm excited, but I don't really want to leave, actually," Peace said. "It's high school it's fun. I'll miss all my friends."
Peace, who is on the varsity soccer team, is among the soccer, volleyball, cross country and football athletes who began practicing this week. They will take to the field or the gym every morning until school starts and they switch to afternoon practice schedules.
"I stayed in touch with my kids over the summer to make sure they were doing what they needed to be doing to stay in shape," said cross country and track and field coach Chuck Hardt. "We've got a good group coming back this year."
The football players who drew Peace and Reisdorf into the shade are defending state champions -- and are determined to defend their title.
At the edge of the field, high school band teacher Larry Potvin put the marching band through its paces, demanding sharp turns, crisp notes and loud, self-assured voices.
In the school office, drama teacher John Siler was preparing scripts for the drama club's first play of the season "Get Smart."
"We lost 14 of 25 to graduation, so this will be a rebuilding year," he said, "but we have a lot of new faces and a lot of new talent."
Siler is putting the finishing touches on the school's new studio theater, where drama classes will be held this year.
"If all goes well, we'll hold our October and February shows on the main stage (in the auditorium) and our December and April shows in the studio theater," he said. "The studio theater will be a much more intimate setting."
Back at the football field, Reisdorf and Peace can't make up their minds what they're looking forward to most prom, homecoming, graduation it's too hard to chose, they said.
"I can't wait," Reisdorf said, "but I'm afraid I'll try to hurry up my senior year and get to graduation and wonder where it went."
For now, though, getting to school is one of her biggest challenges.
"I'm saving up for a car any car I need some wheels," she said.
Students who ride the bus to and from school, however, may encounter some changes this year. Half of Payson's 14 bus routes, which have been forced by residential development to cover larger areas in recent years, have been rearranged to reduce bus crowding and streamline certain afternoon routes.
In addition to learning the new bus routines, elementary school students in Payson will have to get up 10 minutes earlier for school this year.
Class will start at Julia Randall, Payson and Frontier elementary schools at 8 a.m. instead of 8:10 this year. Bell schedules for Rim Country Middle School, Payson High School and Pine-Elementary School will remain the same.