Lobo Replacement Among State's Best

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It could be out of the frying pan and into the fire for the Payson High School football team.

Two weeks ago, the team didn't have a preseason scrimmage because Snowflake had reneged on an agreement to play in Payson.

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Longhorn coach Jerry Rhoades, who is beginning his second season at the helm of the program, gives instructions to his players prior to Tuesday's practice. The Horns open the season at 11 a.m. Aug. 21 against Peoria Centennial.

The inferno the Horns have leaped into is the Peoria Centennial team that offered to replace Snowflake after several schools, including North, Carl Hayden and Sunnyslope, backed out of their commitment to play the Coyotes.

Finally, a Centennial school secretary saw on an Arizona Interscholastic Association website that Payson needed an opponent and a deal was struck between the two schools.

The Horns new opponent for the 11 a.m. Aug. 21 scrimmage is one of the most talented teams in Arizona.

The talented roster includes six players who could receive Division I scholarships.

In contrast, Payson has never had a football player receive a full ride division I scholarship out of high school.

Coyote coach Richard Taylor, who has been at Centennial since it opened in 1990, says the team is the most talented he has had in 32 years of coaching. The Coyotes are coming off a 10-2 season in which they won the Class 4A Wells Fargo region championship.

According to Taylor, running back Terry Longbons is the most highly recruited of his players. In many recruiting services, he is considered to be one of the top 100 recruits in the country. Among the schools after him are Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon, Stanford and Northwestern.

Last year, Longbons rushed for 2,087 yards and scored 28 touchdowns. At 6 feet tall and 212 pounds, he has the size to run over opponents. Couple his size with his speed, which is said to be 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and you have a complete running back who has college scouts drooling.

Although he is exceptionally fast, Taylor calls him a "power runner."

The most recent Coyote player to commit to a D-1 school is 6-foot, 4-inch, 300-pound lineman Jordan Lowe. Last week, he accepted a scholarship to play at the University of Arizona. Lowe attracted the interest of Wildcats coaches with a standout performance at the school's summer camp.

Other Centennial players who could earn scholarships include fullback Ryan Coulter, receiver Matt Keith and linemen Bobby Torres and Tanner Highland.

First meeting

The gridiron clash between the two schools, although it is a scrimmage, will be a first.

"I don't know much about Payson. We've never seen them (play)," Taylor said. "But, I did watch a tape of last year's game against Pinnacle."

The coach's impressions after viewing Payson's 10-7 homecoming victory over Pinnacle, is that the Longhorns are "an aggressive, hard-hitting well-coached team."

The Horns will counter Centennial with a newly installed option offense engineered by senior quarterback Donnie Wilbanks. Fullback Tyler Williams gives the new "O" a power runner inside and fleet tailback Luke Apfel is a legitimate threat to turn the corner and go the distance.

Up front, the Horns return a solid nucleus of linemen anchored by Nick DeGroot and Greg Barnes.

Defensively, second-year coach Jerry Rhoades will continue to field the 4-3 scheme he installed last season. About the only changes Rhoades has made is in the terminology.

One of the biggest adjustments the Horns will have to make is playing without 6-foot, 7-inch 235-pound two-way performer Mike Barr who graduated last spring.

Barr's replacement could be Chris Skinner, who came on strong last season to win postseason honors.

In the scrimmage, the rules are mandated by the AIA which states no score is to be kept and there is no punting or kickoffs. The coaches are allowed on the field and can stop play to give instruction.

Rhoades and Taylor will decide the playing format which can include playing for first downs or giving each team a designed number of offensive plays before turning the ball over to the opponent.

There is no admission charge for spectators.

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