The fund-raising efforts of 17 teenagers paid huge dividends last week when the money earned paid for travel to Lincoln, Neb. where the young players attended the Big Red Football School.
The drive to participate in the camp kicked off in late March with a car wash and bake sale. Generating a little more than $2,000, it eventually proved to be one of the most fruitful of the series of benefits.
Later in the spring, the youngsters raffled a University of Nebraska football autographed by Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch and the Big Red coaching staff. The gridiron prize earned $250.
A dance at Mazatzal Casino contributed significantly to the football cause, as did a dinner held at the Ponderosa Steakhouse. At the dinner, the young athletes worked as waiters and servers during the late afternoon and evening hours. The tips they received were donated to the travel fund.
Wal-Mart joined forces by contributing $1,000 to the benefit.
When the drive wrapped up in mid-May, the youngsters had earned more than $6,000.
Bob Hoyt and Duke Wilbanks assisted the players with the benefits. When the two hooked up to lead the effort, both said they'd like to see the players earn their own camp money rather that take a handout from their parents. Earning the money, Hoyt said, might make the experience in Nebraska more meaningful.
The trip to the Big Red school was the second for some of the players. Last year, a smaller contingent of six local athletes participated.
The amount of money earned during this spring's fund-raising stint, Hoyt said, was enough to pay for all the airline tickets from Phoenix to Lincoln and pay each player's camp entrance fee of $210. There was even enough left over for each of the campers to have a small amount of spending money.
The camp, held June 19 to 22 on the campus of the University of Nebraska, drew about 250 aspiring football players from around the country.
A typical day at the Big Red school included classroom sessions with Nebraska head coach Frank Solich, weight-training sessions, films, seminars, on-the-field practices and evening passing league competitions.
In the 7-on-7 passing league, a team made up entirely of Payson players pulled off some surprising upsets, beating Nebraska high school powerhouses Lincoln Southwest and Omaha Gross.
"Both of those are good football schools," Hoyt said.
The Rim passing team wrapped up the camp with a 7-2-2 record.
During the on-the-field sessions, Nate Perna and Donnie Wilbanks worked out under the tutelage of Nebraska's quarterback coach Turner Gill.
"We learned a lot," Perna said. "He taught us a lot about throwing deliveries and option pitches."
Also on the staff were Scott Frost, Cory Schlesinger and Joel Makovicka. Frost now plays for the Green Bay Packers, Schlesinger for the Detroit Lions and Makovicka is the Arizona Cardinals starting fullback.
According to Hoyt, the Payson campers drew more than their fair share of praise from the staff for their strong work ethics and cooperation.
While attending camp, the youngsters were housed in Harper Hall, one of seven major dormitories on campus and only a short walk from Memorial Stadium and Tom Osborne Field.
According to the campers, one of the thrills was practicing in the 73,000-seat stadium that only last year was outfitted with a new artificial surface.
Another highlight was working out in Nebraska's nationally recognized 13,000-square-foot weight room.
"That place was huge," camper Billy Bob Hoyt said.
Participating in the camp were Adam Munson, Sammy Perez, Billy Bob Hoyt, Chad McRae, Tyler Danielson, Alex Vlahopoulos, Nick DeGroot, Waylon Pettet, James Gibson, Michael Arnstein, Greg Barnes, Chris Skinner, J.R. Szabo, Nick Falboa, Andy Hansen, Perna and Wilbanks.
Some of the campers say they are primed and ready to return to Nebraska next summer.
"A lot of us want to go back again, but we all know the hard part is raising the money," Hoyt said. "The camp is the fun part."
For the seniors, including Perna, the trip to the camp was their final one.
"I can't go back again but the others probably will," Perna said. "We really benefited and learned a lot."