Spend a few minutes talking to Scottsdale Community College football coach Kenny Givando, and it won't be long before he's spewing superlatives about former Longhorn football star Justin Kaufmann.
"A tough kid, a great kid ... if you got any more like him there (in Payson), send them down," the longtime junior college coach said.
Last season, Kaufmann a 1999 PHS graduate took his gridiron skills to the Artichoke campus where he hoped to earn playing time as a safety.
After sitting the bench most of the early season, Kaufmann's tenacity in practice sessions began to pay dividends.
"He didn't play much early, but worked his way up at tailback," Givando said.
Kaufmann said he started the campaign as a fourth-team reserve but earned his first starting assignment the seventh week of the season against Eastern Arizona College. In the game, he said, he rushed for 130 yards on 17 carries.
Although he attended Scottsdale hoping to become a defensive back, he's happy now playing on offense.
"I like running the ball better," he said.
By the end of the SCC's 5-5 season, Kaufmann had impressed the coaching staff enough to be named the team's "Newcomer of the Year" a citation that goes annually to the outstanding rookie player.
The transition to junior college play from the prep level was made easier, Kaufmann said, by a two-week trip he made last summer to Australia.
Along with PHS teammate Tim Bunting, Kaufmann was a member of an Arizona All-Star football team that played Down Under against an Aussie star team.
Coaching the Arizona celestials was former PHS coach Dan Dunn, now at Mesa Red Mountain.
Playing both linebacker and running back, Kaufmann was able to elevate his game to the all-star level.
"He did a nice job for us, played really well," Dunn said.
Also along on the transcontinental jaunt was former Payson resident Matt Porr who was a star receiver and defensive back for the Mountain Lions.
After reacquainting himself with Porr on the trip, Kauffmann said the two have become buddies. On the playing field, however, the pair are rivals.
"He plays safety at Mesa (College)," Kaufmann said.
Although he had the playing experience of the trip Down Under, he said it took some time to adjust to the college game when preseason drills began July 16.
"It's a lot faster and the linebackers are so much bigger ... you just have to adapt," he said.
Also, summer training sessions were much more demanding in college than they were on the high school level.
"We had mandatory weightlifting two hours a day in the summer," Kaufmann said.
With his freshman year behind him, Kaufmann is looking forward to next year when he'll be one of the team's more seasoned players.
"I'll play one more year at Scottsdale, then try for (a four-year) college maybe BYU, Oregon or Oregon State," he said.
The opportunity to go on to play at a major college was one of the things that first attracted him to Scottsdale.
"They (the SCC coaching staff) put more kids in Division 1," Kaufmann said.
At SCC, the PHS graduate is majoring in business.