by Max Foster
roundup staff reporter
With a third head coach in three seasons at the helm of the Longhorn football program, players, fans and assistant coaches might be hoping for a little more gridiron stability on campus.
The newest coach to take over the reins of the PHS football program is 30-year-old Steve Saban who hails from Globe. During his short coaching career, he has made one coaching stop in San Carlos where he worked for three years.
At San Carlos, he served as an assistant for a season before being promoted to head coach.
According to Saban, the school lost 88 consecutive games before he helped turn the tide last year with a 38-30 victory over Superior.
Because San Carlos was not a hot bed of football, victories were almost nonexistent. But last year, even when conditions were not conducive to winning, the team accomplished a lot, Saban said.
Saban jumped at the opportunity to come to Payson when PHS officials came calling in search of a coach to replace Mike Wheelis, who resigned last winter after one year with the Horns.
"I'm looking forward to becoming a part of the community," he said after accepting the job.
Under the past two coaches Wheelis and his predecessor Jim Beall the Horns ran the power option offense and a 52 defense. Fans didn't notice much change when Beall stepped down and Wheelis took over.
But things will be different under Saban. He's scrapped the power option in favor of a Wing-T offense and has hired longtime assistant Jack Morris as defensive coordinator.
Morris, who's been an assistant for seven years and was a member of the 1986 Longhorn team that advanced to the state championship, is promising his defense will be more aggressive than in past years.
Defense will maintain the 52 look, but fans can expect to see players involved in stunts, blitzes, slides and twists trying to out maneuver the offense.
The Wing-T offense, which Saban will direct, features inside traps, quarterback bootlegs, sweeps, waggles and misdirection plays.
But, no matter what the offense or defense a new coach brings with him, he must have a stable of good athletes to be successful in his inaugural year. Saban has at his disposal a contingent of veterans who seasoned on last year's 5-4 varsity team that wrapped up the campaign with a stunning upset of Show Low.
Also, the new coach can fill in vacant slots with athletes from the 2000 JV team that finished 5-3.
A handful of sophomore players are projected to make the varsity team.
Since drills opened Aug. 6, coaches have been trying to solidify a starting lineup. That process, however, has been hampered by injuries and illness.
"It's been like a revolving door," Saban said. "You put a player in and pretty soon he's out."
At the all-important defensive end spots where some coaches plug in their best athletes junior Jake Swartwood and sophomore Mike Barr will probably see extensive duty.
Morris said Swartwood had a great game Friday, in a controlled scrimmage at Phoenix Christian.
The tackle slots in the Horn defense could be manned by Jeremy Greenburg and Bryce River.
Greenburg, the student body president, is a heady player who started last season. In early drills Greenburg was slowed by a bacterial infection and is just now getting his playing legs under him, Morris said.
At nose guard, much of the preseason practice time has gone to Shawn Pickle. Morris has labeled Pickle a rock solid player who can be counted on to contribute more than his fair share to the Longhorn cause.
The inside linebacker slots could go to George Coleman and Levi Armstrong.
Coleman is no stranger to athletic competition, having emerged last year as a top wrestler on the PHS mat team.
Last season under Wheelis, Armstrong was restricted to offense, but those who have watched the teenager play since his youth football days point out he's also a darn good defensive player. Apparently, the new coaches will use him there.
At Tuesday afternoon's practice, however, Armstrong injured his knee and was pulled from drills. Coaches say they are hoping he returns to full speed for the St. Johns game.
At the cornerback positions could be a pair of Waylons Pettet and Quotsquyva Last week, Pettet injured an ankle and was held out of the Phoenix Christian scrimmage. Morris is hopeful Pettet will recover in time for today's (Friday) season opener in St. Johns.
Other candidates for the defensive backfield are free safety Josh Heglie and strong safety Ky Bradley.
Last year, Bradley was one of the team's leading defenders, despite also having to man the starting quarterback position. In most games, he seldom left the field.
When it's time for the kicking game, the PHS coaches will probably call upon Heglie, a former standout soccer player, who has the leg to provide the booming boots coaches are hoping for.
In a perfect gridiron world, athletes would not have to play on both sides of the ball. But Payson is a Class 3A high school and not the NFL, so many of the Longhorns athletes will be counted on to play both offense and defense.
Leading the two-way players is Bradley a starter at signal caller and in the defensive backfield.
Having your star quarterback play defense is a no-no in some coaches' game plans. But Bradley pulled it off successfully last season and is again being asked to pull double duty.
Halfback Pettet and fullback Armstrong will be in the Wing-T backfield with Bradley.
Swartwood could get the nod at "X" or wide receiver and Barr at "Y" or tight end.
Quotsquyva could get the starting nod at "Z" or wingback. In the Wing-T formation, the Z back is extremely important because he must be able to block effectively, catch passes and run the counter plays.
Of course, the best of backfields couldn't move the ball with a gritty group of bruise brothers to man the offensive line.
A fact of prep football life is teams who don't control the line of scrimmage, don't win games.
A promising group of linemen will fortify the Longhorns, including Ingo Beck (tackle), River (center) Greenburg (tackle), Pickle (guard) and Amon (guard). If they come together to be a cohesive group, it could result in a berth into the postseason playoffs.
Longhorn coaches have the opportunity to assess their stable of players tonight in a nonregional match against the St. Johns Redskins. Kick off time is 7 p.m. in St. Johns.
Although the Redskins are a 2A school, the team has always been highly competitive against larger 3A and 4A teams. Last year, the Skins advanced to the state championship before losing a thriller to Phoenix Christian.
During most of his head coaching tenure at Ganado and St. Johns, Mike Morgan was known for his ground-oriented teams that ran mostly powers, dives and options. Last season, with his son Vince Morgan at quarterback, the coach added a high-powered passing attack.
The change in philosophy proved to be sound when the Skins went on to become the second best team in the 2A conference and Vince Morgan won Player of the Year honors. Morgan graduated last spring and signal caller duties have been turned over to Brent Heap.
Whether coach Morgan decides to keep his passing attack or return to the power game won't be known until after kick off this evening.
The Horns home debut is set for 7 p.m. Sept. 14 against Holbrook. The game will not be a regional showdown as in past years because Roadrunners are no longer a member of the East. In a realignment last fall, they were moved to the North.