For six former Payson High School football players, a recent trip to Australia for the Down Under Bowl was the experience of a lifetime.
"I loved it. I wish we could have stayed there," Dusty Brockett said.
Shaun Hounshell echoed his teammates' comments. "The beaches, the surfing was so much fun ... everything was really neat."
"It's a nice country, beautiful," Caleb Miller said.
Also along on the jaunt with Brockett, Hounshell and Miller were O.J. Siebert, Steve Williamson and Sterling White.
All were award-winning seniors and members of the 2000 Longhorn football team. At the conclusion of last season, the six were invited to join an Arizona All-Star team that was scheduled to participate in the Novotel Beachcomber Down Under Bowl.
The games played on Gold Coast of Queensland featured Arizona against an Oregon all-star team and against the New Zealand Haka.
In the opener, the Arizona stars coached by Tucson Baboquiravi's Mark Frithsen lost to Oregon 19-2.
"We could never get our passing game going," Brockett who played "Z" or wingback for the Arizona stars said.
In the second encounter against a New Zealand team of veteran rugby players, Arizona prevailed 14-6.
For his efforts in the game which included a 40-yard touchdown reception and a 30-yard run off a misdirection play Brockett was named the game's most valuable player.
Miller, who played cornerback, contributed to the Arizona cause with a fumble recovery and eight tackles, he said.
During the two celestial showdowns, Siebert earned starting honors at defensive end, White played on the defensive line and Williamson and Hounshell played free safeties in the team's 5-2 defensive scheme.
In both games, Williamson who played fullback linebacker for the Longhorns last season was Arizona's defensive captain.
For their 1-1 Down Under showing, the Arizona team members were awarded souvenir bronze medals.
In prepping for the clashes Down Under, the all-stars practiced on Saturdays, at Phoenix Christian High School.
On the team with the Payson athletes were players from Casa Grande, Phoenix St. Mary's, Cactus Shadows, Apache Junction, Yuma and other high schools throughout the state.
Only seniors from the 2001 graduating class were eligible to participate in the all-star games.
Slow start Down Under
The trip to Australia got off to an auspicious start June 27 when the team was forced to suffer through an unexpected seven-hour layover at Los Angeles International Airport.
After the players finally boarded the aircraft for the flight to Sydney, they had to endure a 14-hour flight.
"We watched a lot of movies," Brockett said.
Williamson agreed with this teammate, "That was not fun."
For White, Siebert and Williamson the journey was their first flying experience.
Once there, the players were greeted by warm, balmy 70-degree weather despite the fact the country was in its winter season.
After spending a leisurely day in Sydney, the team traveled to the Gold Coast, where the players spent seven days gearing up for and playing in the star games.
During their stay, the Payson players found the culture to be quite different from the Rim country.
"A Burger King is called a Happy Jack," Miller said.
Also, the players noticed that road signs were confusing when they spotted a yield sign that read "Give Away."
Spotting the country's residents driving on the left hand side, the American teens spouted, "They're on the wrong side of the road."
The food, Hounshell and Miller agreed, was bland and quite different from what they were used to.
An Aussie staple is Vegemite, a concentrated yeast extract the residents use similar to butter or margarine. Like all the Payson gridiron stars who've gone before them Down Under, the players agreed the spread is not something they want on their menu.
"It's awful," Hounshell said.
"I only smelled it. That stuff is nasty," Williamson said.
When not practicing or playing football, the players' favorite pastime was to rent surfboards and head to Surfer's Paradise, where the ocean swells reached 8 to 10 feet, Hounshell said.
Trip organizers had scheduled a variety of other cultural activities including scuba diving, sailing and visits to several of the country's historical sights including a wildlife park.
After leaving Australia, the team flew to Oahu, where they spent a day taking in the sights of Honolulu and the famous Waikiki Beach.
Although Hawaii was pleasant, Miller said he enjoyed the scenic Gold Coast much more.
During the Hawaiian stay, some of the players opted to visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial and toured several World War II-era warships.
To participate in the 13-day trip, the Payson players had to earn $2,800 each.
By participating in raffles, car washes, Down Under sports merchandise sales, dances, and through sponsorships, all were able to earn the money.
Upon their return to Payson, the players said they wanted to thank the locals who chipped in to help the money raising effort.
"They couldn't have gone without all that help," Caleb's mother, Connie Miller, said.
When the Down Under Bowl began in 1988, it hosted teams from Arizona, Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming traveling to Australia to play Aussie teams.
In the early years of the bowl, Payson was represented by such standouts as Jon Gunzel, Daniel Dunn and Brent Caulkins.
Since its inception, it has grown to include teams from all 50 states and is now the largest American football tournament in Australia.
In 1997, all of the state football teams were brought together in one location the Gold Coast of Queensland.
George Scanlon, president of International Sports Specialists, which sponsors the event, said the trip gives the players the opportunity to play, perform and interact with the Australian and New Zealand public.
"The players act as ambassadors for America," he said, "as they exemplify the great sporting traditions we love."