After a see-saw season in which the Payson Longhorns finished 6-5, East region coaches honored first-year coach Steven Saban and nine of his charges.
In a voting of head coaches held last week at Hon-dah near Pinetop, Saban in his first year at the helm of the Horn football program was tapped the "East Coach of the Year."
Also honored for their contributions during the course of the regular season were Levi Armstrong, Mike Barr, Levi Amon, Ky Bradley, Sean Pickle, Waylon Pettet, Jeremy Greenburg, Josh Heglie and Jake Swartwood.
Armstrong, Barr and Amon were chosen to the first offensive team. Bradley and Pickle were on the first defensive team.
Coaches voted Greenburg and Pettet to the second offensive team.
Heglie received honorable mention as a kicker/punter and Swartwood was an honorable mention defensive end.
The awards bode well for the coach and players since Payson toiled in the most competitive region in the 3A conference, which included top-ranked and unbeaten Blue Ridge. Those facts of high school football made the battle for individual postseason recognition stiff.
First team players
Most of the season, Armstrong a fullback was a one-man wrecking crew for the Longhorns.
His bull-like rushes between the tackles yielded a team-high 1138 yards rushing. Also, his 5.9-yards-per-carry average was one of the best in the East region and he led the team in scoring with 14 touchdowns.
Although most of his yardage was accumulated on runs of 10-20 yards into the heart of the defense, Armstrong broke loose for one 70-yard TD dart.
Armstrong statistics might have been even more impressive had he not suffered a cut foot late in the season that limited his effectiveness in a state playoff win over Santa Cruz.
The senior three-year letter winner didn't pick up any defensive honors from East coaches, but he also was an accomplished part-time linebacker who finished with 12 assists and five solo takedowns.
Barr, only a sophomore, earned regional accolades as the Horns' starting tight end and leading receiver. At 6 foot, 5 inches and 215 pounds, Barr was an imposing target for quarterback Ky Bradley.
The teenager finished with 16 receptions for 297 yards, three touchdowns and had a longest catch of 60 yards.
His 18.6-yards-per-catch average is a remarkable feat for tight ends who are usually on the receiving end of short hook and curl passes in the flats. With two years of eligibility remaining, Barr is one of the most promising young football players in the state.
Amon might be best known among Longhorns fans as a standout linebacker in the PHS defense. But it was his offensive exploits at guard that caught the eye of opposing coaches.
When the Horn offense was clicking, it was Amon leading the charge opening gaping holes for PHS running backs.
His responsibilities on the line of scrimmage were many double team, pull around end on sweeps, trap and pass block. But those weren't the end of his contributions. When the Horns went on the defensive, Amon lined up at inside linebacker where he led the team in assisted tackles with 59.
What the average fan doesn't know about the teenager is that he also had a terrific work ethic that included a regime of lifting weights and conditioning at Payson Athletic Club each weekday before practices began.
Although Bradley started the past two seasons at quarterback, it was his defensive efforts at linebacker and safety that earned him postseason honors.
Known as one of the East's steadiest defenders against both the pass and run, Bradley racked up a team-high 15 solo tackles.
He also chalked up 50 assists and led the Horns in interceptions with three.
When not stalking down enemy ball carriers, Bradley was at the controls of the Longhorn offense. Through the airways, he completed 50 of 106 passes for 840 yards, nine touchdowns and had 10 interceptions.
If the Horns had a defensive player who gave opposing offensive line coaches fits, it was Pickle. As the Longhorn nose guard most of the year, his quickness and tenacity wore out frustrated offensive lineman who attempted to block him.
Although his statistics were impressive (48 assists, four solos, five fumbles caused and two sacks) the true worth of Pickle can only be understood after watching him perform.
In the Horns' state second-round loss to Blue Ridge, Pickle helped limit the powerful Yellow Jacket scoring machine to a paltry eight first-half points.
No matter what BR tried, Pickle scrambled from sideline to sideline trying to disrupt the flow of the play. Only a concussion he suffered in the second half limited his effectiveness.
The second team
As one of the most talented running backs to don a Longhorn uniform, Pettet used a 62-41 first-round state tournament win over Santa Cruz to showcase his considerable skills.
One week later in the loss to Blue Ridge, he was again a force finishing with 82 yards rushing in 11 carries.
Pettet eventually finished second on the team, to Armstrong, in all-purpose yards (1425) with 705 rushing, 303 receiving, 37 punt returning and 380 on kick returns.
Much of Pettet's yardage was racked up behind Greenburg's blocking
Greenburg is an offensive tackle who doubles as the school's student body president. Also an honor student, Greenburg sported the moxie to master blocking schemes and serve as a team leader. Playing defensive tackle, Greenberg was in on 42 tackles.
Heglie, a former soccer player turned gridder, served as the team's backup fullback behind Armstrong.
Among his greatest contributions to the team, however, were as a punter and kicker. In 42 kickoffs, he maintained a 53 yard average and sent 17 of the boots into the end zone. When he was punting, Heglie built a 36-yard average with a longest of 44. He also shined on defense, finishing with nine solo tackles and 30 assists.
Like Heglie, Swartwood was a soccer player who blossomed into a football standout. Playing end for defensive coordinator Jack Morris' bandits, Swartwood had 24 assists, five solos, two quarterback sacks and two fumble recoveries The teenager accomplished all that despite playing the last few games with a cast on a wrist that was broken midway through the season
With the season at an end and the results of the all-region voting in, all that's left on the gridiron agenda is for Arizona Coaches Association members to gather in early December and select the players for next summer's North vs. South All-Star game
Senior members of all the state's high schools, including PHS, are eligible to participate in the classic.