River's Goal Is Football Down Under

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Payson High School senior Bryce River's goal is to join the contingent of former Longhorn football players who have participated in Australia's Down Under Bowl.

Among the ex-PHS gridiron stars who have been members of the Arizona All-Star team that played in the international showdown are Daniel Dunn, Jon Gunzel and Brent Calkins.

"It would be an honor if I could go, it would be an awesome opportunity" River said.

The former Longhorn offensive and defensive lineman has received an invitation from tour operators and Arizona coach Terry Fair to become a member of the team.

But to compete, he'll need to raise about $3,000 before a May 1 deadline. He's already earned about $1,000 of the money and has ideas on how to raise the remainder.

He hopes he can earn much of it at a benefit dinner, 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. April 8. Tickets --vailable at the door or by calling River at 474-6821 -- are $5 for adults and $3 for children. The menu will include steak, potato, beans, salad, bread and drink.

In addition to the dinner, River is asking local businessmen, friends and service organizations to sponsor him in his endeavor.

"I am committed to raising the funds necessary for me to attend," he said. "If I can do a service or speak to anyone about this opportunity and how important it is to me, I would gladly do it."

River's football career began in local youth leagues and at Rim Country Middle School. As an eighth-grader, he was a standout player on the Maverick team that finished as the undefeated White Mountain League champions.

In high school, he capped his four-year career last fall by helping the Longhorns reach the state tournament.

As a member of the PHS state runner-up wrestling team, he was a third-place finisher in the Class 3A 189-pound division. River also was selected as an alternate to the Arizona Coaches Association All-Star wrestling match.

Other teenagers who have participated in the sports/cultural exchange in Australia have praised the experience.

"It's very educational for a young kid to see a different part of the world," former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer said.

Going Down Under

The Arizona All-Star team's 13-day trip to Australia officially begins at Los Angeles International Airport when the squad boards Qantas Airways for about a 30-hour trip.

Once the team arrives in Sydney, River and his team will be treated to a sightseeing tour that will include the famous Sydney Harbor, Home Bush (site of the 2000 Olympics), and Sydney Opera House.

For the next three days, the team practices in early morning sessions. In the afternoon, the team has free time to explore the countryside. Among the jaunts will be a visit to Blue Mountains where the teens will ride on what is billed as the "world's steepest train ride."

Next on the agenda is a short flight to the Gold Coast where the team will reside at the Beachcomber Hotel in Surfer's Paradise.

Several practices will be held there before the Down Under Bowl games begin.

On game days, the team will be pitted against high school all-star teams representing other states.

If Arizona wins its first game, it qualifies for a championship showdown. A first-round loss would send the squad to a consolation battle.

Following the bowl tournament, the team boards home-bound flights at Coolangatta International Airport.

For River, the cultural rewards of the trip will be an experience he'll never forget. But, he's also looking forward to playing in one final gridiron challenge.

"It (playing football) isn't over yet," he said. "I want this one last game to be special."

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