Aspiring Longhorn junior varsity and varsity football players wrapped up spring football practices yesterday (Thursday) afternoon with a scrimmage on the Rumsey Park south field.
For more than a week, the players were tutored in the nuances of the Longhorn gridiron program under new-coach Jerry Rhoades.
Rhoades was recently named the PHS coach to replace Steve Saben, whose coaching contract was not renewed at the conclusion of last season.
Prior to being appointed the new coach, Rhoades served as the defensive coordinator at Mingus High School. He also had coaching stints at Bradshaw Mountain, Yuma Kofa and Mesa Red Mountain.
During spring practices, Rhoades and his staff explained the basics of the football system that will be used next season.
A proponent of the 4-3 defense and Wing-T offense, Rhoades also stressed special teams play during the sessions.
The coach's biggest challenge might be to find replacements for the seniors who just graduated -- players who have been the nucleus of the program for the past two seasons. Those players are Waylon Pettet, Jake Swartwood, Nate Perna, Layton Howell and George Coleman.
All five starred for the Longhorns last fall and were recipients of All-East post-season honors.
Pettet led the Longhorns in rushing with 1,270 yards on 128 carries and scored 12 touchdowns. His 9.6-yards-per-carry average was the best in the 3A conference. He also caught 22 passes for 405 yards and five TDs. Defensively, his 44 tackles were second only to Howell. With five interceptions, Pettet was the Horns' top pass defender.
Running back and punt return specialist Billy Bob Hoyt, who will be a senior in the fall, opted not to play football in order to focus of his golf career.
"It was tough to give up football, I've been in it since middle school," he said.
The good news for Rhoades and his staff is that the team returns two veteran players that they can call upon to provide leadership on both sides of the ball.
Senior-to-be Mike Barr and running back Tyler Williams turned in stellar seasons during the Horns 6-4 campaign. Barr, a tight end, led the team in receptions with 22 for 405 yards and five TDS.
Last fall, Barr was the only PHS player named to Phoenix Metro Football Magazine's Class 3A All-State team. At 6-foot-6 inches and 230 pounds, Barr will present an inviting passing target for the quarterback that is chosen to replace Perna.
Williams, who will be a junior, was a solid fullback for the Longhorns, rushing for 453 yards on 101 carries. He also scored 10 touchdowns and averaged 4.5 yards per carry.
Most of Williams' rushing attempts were on trap plays between the guards.
Next year, Williams will again be called upon to run the trap plays but also might become more of a passing target than he has been.
With another year of experience and maturity, both Barr and Williams are projected to be even better performers.
The key to offensive success could be the development of the line under coach Jack Morris. Morris was not in the program last year after working on the staff several seasons under former coach Jim Beall. If he can mold the line into a force, the Wing-T might produce the offense necessary to be successful.
During spring practices, several promising players up from last year's junior varsity squad showed the talent to fill the voids created by the loss of the graduated seniors.
Defensively, Rhoades is committed to the even front look and a variety of secondary coverages. During spring practices, he scoured the roster searching for players to fill the defensive bill.
Rhoades' coaching experience in the Class 4A Grand Canyon region -- of which Payson will be a member next school year --ill be an added plus for the Longhorns.
Having coached at Mingus, he knows what to expect from future opponents like Flagstaff, Sinagua, Coconino and Page.
Those schools, along with Mingus and Payson, will be members of the 4A GC region.
Preparations for next season will continue with morning and evening training sessions throughout the summer.
For more information about the PHS football program, call Rhoades at 474-4511.