Posting a mediocre 3-3 East record and finishing fifth in the final standings didn't stop the Payson Longhorn football team from being well represented when coaches selected the All-East teams.
Teams out of the playoff picture, as the Horns were, traditionally don't have many players honored. But coaches reversed that trend last week by voting nine PHS players to the regional all-star teams.
Payson High head coach Mike Wheelis, who just wrapped up his first year at the helm of the program, said he was delighted head coaches from the seven East schools opted to acknowledge the efforts of the Payson players.
Athletes chosen included Sterling White, Levi Armstrong, Waylon Pettet, Steve Williamson, Reed Hatch, R.C. LaHaye, Ky Bradley, Caleb Miller and Cory McRae.
White was named to first-team offense as was Hatch on defense.
Second team defensive honors went to LaHaye, Bradley and Miller. Armstrong and Pettet were tapped to the second team offense.
McRae earned honorable mention honors on defense and Williamson was honorable mention offense.
The offensive selections
To the average fan, White might have been more noticeable on the defensive side of the ball. But it was his play at offensive tackle that impressed coaches the most.
Relying upon his size and strength, White was a key component in the Horns' power option offense.
Much of White's grunt work helped Armstrong become Payson's offensive statistical leader. The junior running back finished first in all purpose yards (898), yards from scrimmage (623), rushing (753 yards) and punt returns (18 for 161 yards). He was also second in kick returns (7 for 255 yards) and scoring (30 points).
Following most seasons, Armstrong would have been a first-team selection.
However, the presence of 1,000 yard rushers Cory Austin (Round Valley), Kenley Ries (Blue Ridge) and Tyler Maxwell (Blue Ridge) made the running back competition even more fierce.
In addition to regional honors, White and Armstrong tied for the team's "Most Valuable Offensive Player" laurels in a voting of players. Those honors were doled out at the season-ending team banquet held last week at Julia Randall Elementary school.
By selecting Pettet to the East second team, coaches recognized the Longhorns owned a budding star.
Only a sophomore, Pettet is looking at a bright future at a variety of positions running back, defensive back, punt returner and kick returner.
Blessed with good speed and nifty moves, the youngster gave opposing coaches fits as they put together game plans to negate his considerable abilities. With another year of experience and maturity, he's projected to be a force to reckon with.
Payson's fourth player to receive offensive honors, fullback Steve Williamson, was a rock solid lead blocker and ball carrier whose contributions sometimes went unnoticed.
Outstanding linebackers, some college material, dotted the rosters of Blue Ridge, Show Low, Round Valley and Snowflake.
Although Hatch was pitted against extremely tough competition in the All-East voting, his exploits were good enough to impress coaches he was deserving of first-team honors.
Playing inside linebacker in the Horns 52 defense, Hatch led the team in tackles with 125 and built a reputation as one of the region's hardest hitters.
To go along with his East accolades, Hatch tied with Austin Wilbanks for the Longhorns' Most Valuable Defensive Player citation.
By having LaHaye and Miller selected to the second team, the Longhorns had both their starting cornerbacks honored.
Bradley's chief contribution to the Horn cause was mostly on the offensive side of the ball as the starting signal caller. But when post-season honors rolled around, coaches recognized his considerable efforts as a free safety. With 98 tackles, he was the Horns' second leading defender behind Hatch.
McRae, a hard-nosed linebacker was a fixture on the Horn defense.
Along with HM recognition, McRae picked up a "Longhorn Award" at the team's award festivities. The honors go annually to players who demonstrate extreme dedication throughout the course of the campaign.
McRae started the season as a fullback but, at the request of coaches, switched to offensive guard in preseason drills. The unselfishness of the act probably earned him the award, assistant coach Jack Morris said.
The other Longhorn Award was given to cornerback/safety Shaun Hounshell who, Morris said, was one of the most dependable and versatile players on the team.
The senior members of the PHS team are eligible to be selected to the Arizona Coaches Association All-Star game when players are selected at the conclusion of the 4A-5A tournament. The voting, done by the state's coaches, will be Dec. 9.