The highlight of the Longhorns’ annual awards program will be coach Steve Saban’s announcement of the players who were named to the All-East region team. The banquet is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4 at the Mazatzal Casino.
East region coaches annually select the all-star team based on the players’ performances during the regular season. Traditionally, the prep football teams that fare the best during the campaign produce the most all-star players.
Because Payson finished with a 6-4 record and in fourth place in the final standings, the Longhorns could find themselves with fewer all-region players than East champion Blue Ridge, runner-up Snowflake and bronze-medalist Show Low.
Statistically, however, coaches might be influenced by the on-the-field accomplishments of several Payson standouts.
Most notably is senior running back Waylon Pettet. The argument could be made among coaches that Pettet is the best running back in the region. In 10 games, he rushed for 1270 yards on 128 carries and scored 12 touchdowns His 8.6-yards-per-carry average is one of the best in the 3A conference. With 22 receptions for 405 yards and five TDs, Pettet was also an accomplished receiver.
On special teams, Pettet returned 14 kickoffs for 410 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, his 44 tackles was second only to linebacker Layton Howell. With five interceptions, Pettet was the Longhorns’ theft leader.
Since coaches’ voting often turns fickle, it is too early to declare Pettet a first-team shoo-in.
The Horns could have another honors candidate in tight end/defensive end Mike Barr. As a receiver, Barr led the Longhorns in receptions with 22 for 405 yards and five TDs.
Most impressive was the quality of his catches. He often used his 6-foot 5-inch, 220-pound frame to out-duel frustrated defensive backs for the ball. Barr also built a reputation as a solid blocker in the Horns’ offensive scheme that revolved around the run game.
Often voting coaches don’t choose to recognize sophomore players, opting instead to wait until their junior and senior seasons. But, Longhorn fullback Tyler Williams also could be tough to overlook.
Running trap plays between the guards where real estate is tough to come by, Williams rushed for 453 yards on 101 carries. He also scored 10 touchdowns. His 4.5-yards-per-carry average is a good mark considering his position.
Offensively, quarterback Nate Perna is facing tough East competition is his quest for post-season honors.
The region featured some topnotch signal callers including Snowflake’s Porter Caldwell and Blue Ridge’s Alex Moro.
During the season, Perna’s numbers included completing 54 of 123 passes for 863 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Defensively, Payson’s candidates for honors will probably include Jake Swartwood, Howell and Pettet.
With 49 tackles, two interceptions and three blocked punts, Howell led defensive coordinator Jimbo Armstrong’s bandits.
Playing a stand-up defensive end position, Swartwood was third in tackles with 36.
An All-East candidate on both offense and defense could be two-way performer George Coleman. Playing offensive tackle, he used his size (6-foot, 1-inch, 215 pounds) to open holes for Pettet and Williams. Defensively, he played both linebacker and tackle. His 23 tackles was the fourth-best mark on the team. If East coaches are influenced by special team’s performances, they might consider Billy Bob Hoyt. His 18 punt returns for 346 yards and one TD include a longest run of 87 yards.
Since all-star voting is not an exact science and balloting can be influenced by a number of factors, Saban’s announcement at the awards ceremony should keep Longhorn fans on the edge of their seats.