The smell of pigskin will soon fill the air, as Longhorn football prepares for another season of gridiron battles.
For the athletes, the crux of upcoming activities centers around two camps and the start of preseason practices Aug. 7.
Parents and fans can jump into the fray by enjoying a benefit steak dinner that will help raise much-needed funds for the Longhorn program. The dinner is from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11 in the Rim Country Middle School cafeteria, and features a menu of grilled steak, baked potato, beans, salad and beverage. Tickets $5 for adults and $3 for children are available from any football player or at the door.
Preparation for the upcoming season began Friday and Saturday in a passing league tournament that drew teams from Mesa Red Mountain, Glendale Mountain Ridge and Canyon State Academy (formerly Arizona Boys Ranch).
The Payson team which alternated Ky Bradley, Nate Perna and Waylon Pettet as quarterback sputtered during the Friday evening session but played much better Saturday morning.
Former Payson High football coach Dan Dunn who now coaches at Mesa Red Mountain said he was impressed with Payson's passing attack during the second session.
"They looked pretty good," he said.
Wheelis cited receivers Dusty Brockett, Shaun Hounshell, Jake Swartwood and Alex Cortez for stellar play.
At the running back positions, O.J. Siebert and Steve Williamson paced the team, Wheelis said.
Defensively, Payson was led by Caleb Miller and Scotty Garduno.
The two days of aerial warfare in which the team played about 16 games might have been just the tune-up the Longhorn passing game needed before preseason practices begin.
According to Wheelis, two-a-day practice sessions at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. will continue until Aug. 11.
Beginning Aug. 14, daily practices begin at 3:20 p.m. and will continue until the culmination of the season in November.
Wheelis estimates practice sessions for both two-a-days and single sessions will last from 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
He also asks football players to make every effort to see that all medical release forms are completed and on file in the office of Athletic Director Dave Bradley before the start of practice. Those who fail to comply cannot practice.
Prospective freshman players should report Aug. 7 with jayvee and varsity hopefuls, Wheelis said.
Originally, former PHS coach Jim Beall was to co-coach the freshmen with veteran Pete Greer. However, Beall has opted not to coach and Wheelis is searching for a replacement to team with Greer.
Athletes who wish to get a jump start on either the Payson High, Rim Country Middle School or Payson youth football programs can do so at two upcoming camps.
The first camp for fledgling players age 8 to incoming 8th-graders will be from 8 a.m. to noon July 24 to 26 on the RCMS multipurpose field.
The "Learn in the Longhorn Way" camp is designed to help young athletes begin to master the skills and fundamentals of the sport. On hand to teach will be Wheelis, his staff and several varsity players. The fee is $30 per camper which includes a camp T-shirt.
The second session, for high school players, is July 31 to Aug. 4 on both the RCMS and PHS fields.
Much more advanced than the youth camp, the five days will help freshmen, jayvee and varsity athletes prepare for the rigors of gridiron play in the rugged East division.
The best advice from Wheelis is that prep players on all levels should plan on attending to learn the nuances of the Horns' offense and defense.
Although Wheelis will retain the power option offense and odd-front 52 defense used during Beall's stint as coach, there will be some subtle changes which players will need to learn at the camp.
Both the youth and high school sessions are noncontact camp in which players wear shorts, T-shirts and shoes only no pads. The camps are not designed to be conditioning sessions so players should report in good physical condition, Wheelis said.
The fee for the high school camp is $50 per athlete. Registration forms for either the youth or high school camp are available at the Payson Roundup, 708 N. Beeline Highway.
Call Wheelis at 474-2070 for more information.