A coach and three players with Payson High School ties will add a distinctive Longhorn flare to the 2006 edition of the Mesa College Thunderbird football team.
T-Bird head coach and MCC athletic director Dan Dunn coached the Longhorns from 1992-1995 and a trio of athletes, who will graduate next spring from PHS, have agreed to play next season for the Mesa school.
At signing ceremonies Feb. 3 on the MCC campus, Derrick Hoosava, Kevin Allen and Luke Apfel inked MCC letters of intent.
The signing was the first time in PHS sports history that three football Longhorn players agreed to play at a single college. Also, Hoosava is the first member of the Tonto Apache Tribe to go on to play football at the collegiate level.
Apfel enters the Thunderbird program as the 3A East Region's Player of the Year and the school record-holder in rushing with 2,068 yards.
Apfel was also named 3A all-state first team and was selected to play in the Arizona Coaches Association 1A-3A North vs. South All-Star game June 16 at Surprise stadium.
Hoosava, a three-year varsity letter winner earned All-East first team defensive team honors last season. Playing cover corner and punter, Hoosava was responsible for making the team's defensive calls.
"He had a lot to do out there," coach Jerry Rhoades said.
Hoosava was also elected homecoming king last fall and was recently selected a National High School Athletic Coaches Association All-American.
Allen, 6-foot, 3-inches, 245-pounds, held down a starting tackle position the last two seasons. At the conclusion of the fall campaign, he was named all-region and all-state first team.
Rhoades credits Allen's success to his work ethic.
"He worked hard in the offseason and it showed," the coach said.
At MCC, the Payson threesome will join a squad that last year finished with a 7-3 record and tied for third place with Dixie State in the Western States Football League.
At the conclusion of the season, 11 players were selected for All-NJCAA Region 1 honors, the most among the five Arizona colleges. Eight Thunderbirds earned All-WSFL recognition.
At MCC, the Payson trio will be asked to fill voids left by 11 T-Birds who have moved on to four-year colleges.
T-Birds soar under ex-Horn coach
Dan Dunn's three-year stint as PHS football coach ended in 1995 when he returned to his former Mesa home to teach math at Mesa College and serve as offensive coordinator for his good friend Jimmy Jones at Mesa Red Mountain High School.
Together, the duo led the Mountain Lions to back-to-back Class 5A state championships.
Three years ago, Dunn agreed to take over as athletic director and football coach at MCC, vowing to return the Thunderbirds to the glory years of the 1970s when the school produced some of the finest athletic teams in the country.
As athletic director, it didn't take the former PHS coach long to propel the MCC program to success.
The school was the recipient of the 2004-2005 Pepsi award for having the best overall athletic program among the two-year colleges.
MCC teams won 64 percent of their games in dual competition and 12 of the college's 16 teams qualified for national tournaments.
"We had nine All-American, four Academic All-Americans, four athletes set new national records in their respective sports, and five of our coaches received postseason Coach-of-the-Year recognition," Dunn said. "This award demonstrates our ability to compete not only in our Arizona Community College Athletic Conference, but also on the regional and national levels."
MCC President Dr. Larry K. Christiansen was among those who lauded Dunn for his contributions.
"I want to congratulate (Dunn) who has provided outstanding leadership and direction to our athletic program in the past year," he said.
Dunn, who continues to own a cabin south of Payson, returned to the Rim Country last fall to be the guest speaker at the Longhorns' season-ending football ceremonies.