More than a year after leading the Payson High School Longhorns to the school's first state championship in golf, Bret Morse has been recognized as the state's "Coach of the Year."
Morse received the honor Sunday at the Arizona Coaches Association Touchstone Energy 12th Annual Coach of the Year Student-Athlete banquet in Phoenix.
Morse said he appreciated the prestigious honor, but also was a bit puzzled with the timeliness of the award.
"I asked why they were giving it this after the 2002 season was already over and they said (Sunday's ceremony) is a 2001 calendar awards banquet for spring, fall and winter sports for 2001," Morse said.
In the spring of 2001, the Longhorns rallied on the second day of the 72-hole state tournament to win the Class 3A title.
With his team trailing the powerful Safford Bulldogs at the end of the first round, Morse called for a late evening team meeting to rally his troops. In the team's motel room, coach and players planned their strategy for what they hoped would be a second day comeback.
Morse and the players' ploy worked to perfection when the Horns led by senior Tyson McKee and freshmen Brandan Kelley and Billy Bob Hoyt mounted a rally that erased Safford's commanding lead.
In addition to winning the 2001 state championship, the Longhorns were also East region champions.
Last spring at Wickenburg's Caballeros Golf Course, Morse nearly led the Longhorns to a state title repeat. Trailing Sedona by 23 strokes at the end of the first day, Morse once again called for a team meeting to address his concerns.
"That night, we decided we were going to go after them with our best effort," Morse said.
In a second day scene that bore striking resemblance to the Horns' 2001 rally, Payson made a run at Sedona, playing what Morse called nearly flawless golf on the first six holes. At the end of those six, the Longhorns were two over par as a team and Sedona was eight over.
"It was an exciting run," Morse said. "We had made up some of the strokes early in the round to put a little pressure on the leaders."
But unlike the previous season, a come-from-behind PHS victory was not to be.
"In the end, Sedona rose to the occasion and put together four solid rounds to notch the victory," Morse said.
Although the Horns had to settle for state runner-up laurels, the strong showing helped stamp Payson as the home of one of the premier prep golf programs in Arizona.
Under Morse and previous coach Dave Bradley, the Longhorns have finished among the state's top five the past five consecutive seasons. In three out of the past four seasons, Payson has been state champion or state runner-up.
In addition to his Arizona Coach of the Year honors, Morse was chosen last season to coach in the ACA's annual North vs. South All-Star match that was played in Casa Grande.
Under his tutelage, McKee was selected in 2001 as the 3A conference "Player of the Year."
This past season, Morse coached Kelley and Hoyt to All-East and 3A All-State honors.