In 1994, the head coach of the Payson Raiders Youth Football Team, Billy Hardt, sat back to reflect on something that he and his team had accomplished -- back to back CAYFA championships.
Knowing it is usually a once in a lifetime opportunity, he relished in the moment. Little did coach Hardt know that things would get even better -- even more unbelievable.
In 2003, he teamed up with myself, assistant head coach Dale Gonzalez, and together we embarked on one of the best winning streaks known to youth football.
To date, the Payson Raiders are 40-1 in the past four seasons and have won four straight championships.
Losing their first game in over three years during their 2006 campaign was a loss felt by every young man to put on the Raiders uniform. Although the defeat was only by two points, 26-24, to the Cottonwood Cardinals, the loss seemed to have taken the wind from the young Raiders team who previously beat the Cardinals, 34-22.
Through sheer want and determination, the Payson Raiders lifted themselves up, dusted themselves off and played football. They played football with the intensity of a team that would not stand for another defeat, and on Nov. 11 beat the Cardinals for the division championship 44-18.
On Nov. 18, in their fourth straight championship, the Payson Raiders took on the Chino Valley Trojans in a game they would win 28-12, becoming the CAYFA Youth Football Associations 2006 Major Division champions.
The 2006 season saw an explosive running attack with tailback Payson Herring running for just over 2,100 yards. This was only matched by a defense that allowed only 169 points to the Raiders' 340.
This year's veteran players who will not return next year are Payson Herring, Joe Dice, Jake Sleeper, Jake Gonzalez, Cameron Geske, Tyler Oesterreich and Dillon Buchannon, all of whom have won two or more championships with the Raiders.
Around the Raider huddles, one quote is often repeated, "Those who leave will leave as champions and those who stay will lead as champions."