Longhorns' No. 15 Still The Player To Watch

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While coaching the 1998 Rim Country Middle School Maverick eighth-grade football team, I pulled No. 15 from a box of new, first-class uniform jerseys that had been purchased by the Mogollon Sporting Association.

I handed it to Waylon Pettet and told him that if he ever became one-half as good as the other running back that I'd known to have worn that number, he'd be a darn good football player.

The other No. 15 was Ty Chilson, who helped lead our 1986 Longhorn team to the state championship showdown where we lost a heartbreaking 7-0 decision to Snowflake.

Since that day in his eighth-grade year, Waylon has worn No. 15. And, he's done a darn good job of maintaining the reputation of No. 15.

In two games, Waylon has rushed for 304 yards and one touchdown. He's averaging a whopping 8 yards-per-carry and has a longest run of 59 yards.

Reminiscent of what Ty did in a state championship semifinal win over Round Valley, Waylon has returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.

Ty's kickoff return, which was straight up the middle of the Mesa Westwood High School field, was about that same distance.

Big loss

Will the loss of Craig Counsell to neck surgery undermine the championship hopes of the Diamondbacks?

That point will be argued, discussed and dissected by all fans of Arizona's favorite professional sports team.

It's a point of dispute even here in the offices of The Payson Roundup where it's nearly impossible to find an employee who doesn't follow the team's every move.

Almost no one will argue over Counsell's crucial role last season in the team's run to the World Championship. But some say the team's roster is deep enough to replace him during the upcoming stretch run. Players like Matt Williams, David Dellucci, Quinton McCracken and Junior Spivey will fill the void left by Counsell, some say.

To my way of thinking, it's almost impossible to replace a player like Counsell. The intangibles he brought to the team commitment, versatility, leadership and inspiration helped make the Diamondbacks winners.

Manager Bob Brenly can probably replace his talent. But I'm not sure all the contributions he made to the team can be replaced by one, or even two, players.

From watching him play the past two seasons, I'm convinced Counsell possessed what Vince Lombardi once called "the singleness of purpose."

No matter what the playing level youth sports, high school or the pros players like Counsell provide the spark that leads to success.

They have what I like to call "the will to win."

Of course, I didn't coin that phrase it's been around a long time.

I first heard it when a football team I once coached gave me at season's end an autographed book entitled "The Will to Win, The Curtis Brinkman Story." The book was an incredible story of a young man's fight to beat impossible odds. Brinkman was known in the 1980s as "The Rocky of Wheelchair Athletes."

Once a highly acclaimed basketball player who grew to 6 feet, 7 inches by the time he was 16 years old, Brinkman lost his legs in an accident. Climbing a power pole in a youthful prank, he was shocked by somewhere between 12,000 and 36,000 volts of electricity. At one time, he was clinically dead.

With his doctors working miracles, Brinkman eventually recovered and went on to become one of the world's finest wheelchair athletes.

In 1980, he won the Boston Marathon Wheelchair Division. At the end of the 1980 International Para-Olympic games, he had garnered four gold medals and one silver medal.

A student at Brigham Young University, Brinkman was revered by the public. During his rehabilitation, Utah elementary school students thought enough of Brinkman to raise funds for him to travel and compete.

Former Utah Governor Scott Matheson awarded Brinkman the Golden Key award for exemplary achievement and service.

It's athletes like Brinkman, and Counsell, who provide the courage, determination, dedication and competitive drive it takes to become a true champion.

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