New Football Coach Welcomes Challenge Of 3a East Region


Most prep football coaches would cringe at the thought of waging warfare in the rugged 3A East region where powerhouses Blue Ridge, Show Low and Snowflake call home.

But not new Payson High School football coach Steve Saban.

"I welcome that challenge, and I say that knowing how good (East football) is," he said.

Only last month Saban, 30, was appointed the new Longhorn football coach, replacing Mike Wheelis who resigned last school year.

Saban will become a full-time Payson resident July 1 and will dive cleats-first into his new job responsibilities.

"I'm looking forward to becoming a part of the community," he said.

In addition to serving as head coach, Saban will teach mathematics at the high school.

The new coach

Saban is no stranger to Arizona. He attended Globe High School, where he was a running back on the Tiger football team. After graduation in 1989, he continued his football career at Whitter College in California.

Three years ago, with a BA degree from Whitter in hand, he returned to Arizona to coach and teach at San Carlos High School

His first year at the school, he served as an assistant before being promoted to head coach the past two years.

Not exactly a hot bed of gridiron action, winning at San Carlos would probably be a challenge for Hall of Fame legend Vince Lombardi.

"The school lost 88 (consecutive) games before we broke the streak (with a 38-30 victory over Superior last season)," Saban said.

Although victories were almost nonexistent, Saban said, his team accomplished a lot under conditions that were not exactly conducive to winning games.

When Payson school officials came calling last spring looking for a replacement for Wheelis, Saban jumped at the opportunity to move up to Class 3A East play, where football is a much more integral part of the school scene than it is on the SC Reservation.

In taking over the Longhorn program, the coach said his primary emphasis will be establishing a lot of discipline and making the game fun for his players.

His coaching staff has not yet been finalized, but he plans on retaining Bret Morse and Jack Morris from Wheelis' staff. Also, he'll add Slade Gibson, who has playing and coaching experience in Tolleson.

The coach expects to name the freshman and jayvee staff soon. With Saban at the helm of the program, fans can expect to see a different offense than the power option attack the Horns used during the tenure of Jim Beall and Wheelis.

A proponent of the time-tested Wing T, Saban said his goal is to have the new "O" well-oiled and working by the time the season opens.

The Wing T, which hinges around successfully executing trap, sweep and bootleg plays, will not be new to longtime PHS fans. The Longhorns used the offense from 1990 until 1995.

Defensively, the Horns will probably retain the odd-front look they used under both Wheelis and Beall. One of the keys to having both the O and D function properly, Saban said, will be to teach the young players to become "more aggressive and real physical."

Goin' campin'

In an effort to instill his brand of football, Saban has scheduled two football camps.

The first, from July 23 to 26, will be for fledgling players entering 4th through 8th grades. Hours will be 8 a.m. until 11 a.m. and registration fee is $30 per camper.

The second camp, from July 30 to Aug. 2, is for high school players. Hours will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and the fee is $50 per player.

The high school camp, Saban said, will help replace the loss of two-a-day practices that cannot be held this year due to the early start of school.

Arizona Interscholastic Association rules allow preseason practices to begin Aug. 6 at Class 3A schools.

In past years, coaches could use those first two weeks before school started for the traditional two-a-days. However, under the new school calender, classes will begin Aug. 6 effectively putting an end to two practices a day.

Without two-a-days, the Longhorns will be at a disadvantage, Saban said. But the camp and slightly longer after school sessions will give the Horns the time they need to gear up for the Beasts of the East.

Registration forms for both football camps are available at Rim Country Middle School and Payson High School.

Also, the PHS weight room is currently open from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

All prospective high school players are urged to attend, Saban said.

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