Throughout preseason practices, Payson High School coaches have scoured track and field rosters hoping to uncover the athletes needed to keep the Longhorn program one of the best in the state.
The only trouble was -- the numbers were simply not there.
Only 23 boys tried out for the 2000 team which last year finished as Central Region champions and fourth-place state finishers only eight points out of second place.
At most class 3A schools, the turnout of athletes would represent good numbers. But in tradition-rich Payson, more is expected.
Coach Chuck Hardt realizes the problem the team faces.
"We don't have the depth we had last year," he said. "We have to find other ways."
Rosters are not what coaches were hoping for, but the team does have a talented crew of returners in the fold including David Shaw, Andrew Easton and Jeremy Lee.
Shaw is a speed-burner who last year set a 100-meter school record. He also excels in the 200 and the long jump, but could be slowed this spring by a troubling back problem. Easton is a conference-class performer in both the 300-meter hurdles and the long jump.
As one of the 3A's best in the 1,600 meters, Lee could double in either the 800 or 3,200 should the Longhorns need the team points.
Shaw, Easton and Lee have proven they are the real deal, but also a bevy of other young athletes wait in the wings eager to show they have the ability to excel.
Among them is junior shot-putter and discus thrower Sterling White.
According to Hardt and throws coach Pete Greer, White has shown a good deal of promise in early season, despite the fact he is somewhat limited in what he can do because of the knee surgery he underwent less than a month ago.
Early last year, White uncorked one of the top 10 shot put efforts in the conference, but later quit the team and wasn't around for the regional and state championships.
The only returner in the crew of throwers is Jared Wallace who was overshadowed last year by the likes of standout Jeremy Hoff. With only one veteran, the crew is buoyed by the addition of seniors Chris Konop and Everett Lenhart.
Other prospective athletes coaches expect to contribute to the Horn cause include Nolan Blalock (middle distances), Danny Malloy (sprints, middle distances), Brandon Johns (throws), Rocky Beery (decathlete), Wes Sprinkle (3200), Mikel Garrett (hurdles, middle distance) and others.
With nary an athlete currently training in the pole vault, the Longhorns are in a world of hurt in that event.
"Zip, zero -- we have none," Hardt said.
The 2000 campaign opens for the Longhorns March 1 at the Bulldog multimeet in Winslow. The season culminates May 12 and 13 at the state championships in Chandler.