Horns Have 75 Hopefuls In The Field

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About 50 aspiring Longhorn jayvee and varsity football players will now don the pads and begin hitting in earnest -- the opening week mandatory conditioning practices are over.

Along with the more veteran members of the team, 25 freshmen prospects turned out for the Aug. 1 opening day of practice.

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For aspiring Longhorn football players like Tyler Savage, future practices will feature full pads and plenty of contact.

During the opening days, the players worked out in helmets only, as required by Arizona Interscholastic Association rules.

With players now in full pads, coaches will begin teaching the fundamentals of blocking and tackling while installing offensive and defensive schemes.

According to third-year Longhorn Jerry Rhoades, the players are making progress but, "we have a long way to go before we play Parker" in the season opener Aug. 26 in Parker.

The athletes' best chance of stepping up their game and nailing down a starting slot will come in a preseason scrimmage against Mingus. The practice clash on the schedule for 6 p.m. Aug. 19 on Longhorn field, but Rhoades is in the process of trying to change it to 5 p.m. Aug. 17 in Payson.

"We should know sometime this week if Mingus agrees to a (date) change," he said.

The scrimmage will offer the Payson players an opportunity to test their skills against players other than their own teammates.

It also affords the coaches a chance to evaluate the team members and plug them into the offensive and defensive positions where they can best help the team.

In the scrimmage, no score is to be kept, coaches can be on the field, play can be stopped by a coach and there are no kick-offs or punting.

Rhoades and his staff will be working in the scrimmage and practices leading up to the season opener, to find replacements for 11 seniors who graduated last spring.

Among those moving on were two-year varsity starters Tyler Williams, Donnie Wilbanks and James Gibson.

Although the shoes of those players will be tough to fill, the Longhorns do have a nucleus of returning letter-winners to call upon leadership.

Among those with varsity experience are two-way linemen Kevin Allen and Donald Engler, running back Luke Apfel, wide receiver Derrick Hoosava and linebacker Cash Armstrong.

The toughest slot for Rhoades and his staff to fill might be quarterback that was manned the past two years by Wilbanks.

Josh Blalock, a signal calling prospect, sat out last year and hasn't practiced this season due to an injury.

If he doesn't heal, Rhoades said he might have to call upon sophomore B.J. Hill or freshman Gage Conway to pull the trigger in the Horn "O."

Whoever gets the call under center, he'll be leading the Longhorns in the school's return to the 3A East region after spending two years in the 4A Grand Canyon ranks.

Life in the East will rekindle the Horns' longtime rivalries against the likes of Snowflake, Blue Ridge and Show Low.

During a stint from 1983 to 2003, when the Horns were a 3A school, the four teams battled one another toe-to-toe for small-town bragging rights.

On the freshmen front, Rhoades and his staff will lead the first year players on a retreat Aug. 13 and 14 to Bear Canyon Lake.

The outing, Rhoades said, is an effort to build camaraderie among the players and the opportunity to do some goal setting among a highly promising group of athletes that were undefeated last season in White Mountain League eighth-grade play.

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