River Recalls His Trip Down Under

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Following 18-year-old Bryce River's return from a two-week sports and cultural exchange to Australia, one of the first questions he faced was the inevitable, "Did you eat any Vegemite?"

"I did," River answered. "And it was not a pleasant experience at all ... I don't know how people can eat that stuff."

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Former Payson High School football player Bryce River had the opportunity to learn a bit more about Koala Bears during his recent trip to Australia.

Other than his unpleasant encounter with Vegemite and two Down Under Bowl game losses, River's trip Down Under was an experience he won't soon forget.

"Especially our stay at the Beachcomber Hotel in Surfer's Paradise Gold Coast," he said. "It was definitely a tourist town but the funest place I've ever been."

River described the ocean, which was only steps from his hotel room as "crystal clear and warm, great for swimming and snorkeling."

The Arizona all-star football team, which River was a member of, arrived in Sydney July 19.

For River, the 15-hour plane trip from Los Angeles to Sydney was "the longest trip I've ever been on and I couldn't sleep because I was so excited."

Almost immediately after the team's arrival in Sydney, the players were treated to a tour of the famous Sydney Harbor, Home Bush (site of the 2000 Olympics) and Sydney Opera House.

For three days, the team practiced in early morning sessions. In the afternoon, players had free time to explore the countryside. Among the visits was to the Blue Mountains where they rode on what is billed as the "world's steepest train ride."

"The train went over the rain forest to a place that is like Australia's Grand Canyon," River said. "The ride is so steep that sometimes it feels like you are lying down."

When the Down Under Bowl game day rolled around, the team found itself outmatched against the Wisconsin all-stars.

"We had all the talent in the world, but couldn't put it together," River said. One of the problems the Arizona team found itself facing was the lack of a head coach. The Winslow High School coach that was to head the team opted not to participate at the last minute.

"So we had just two coaches, one from Wickenburg and the other from Alchesay," River said.

In the team's second bowl game, Arizona lost 16-0 to a Pennsylvania/Ohio all-star team.

Although Arizona was defeated twice, River turned in a solid performance at defensive tackle.

"I thought I had the best games I've ever played," he said. "What made it so special was all the Division I prospects that were playing."

The former PHS football and wrestling stalwart said he doesn't doubt that the athletes he was pitted against will go on to have successful collegiate careers.

"I bet I'll be watching at least 50 of those guys playing on ESPN the next few years," he said.

Following River's return to Payson, he called the venture an opportunity that every PHS athlete should set his or her sights on participating in.

"It's so great and so much fun, just don't try the Vegemite," he said.

A 2003 graduate of Payson High, River is now preparing for a church mission that he expects to begin next spring.

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