A pair of Payson High School's most acclaimed football players, Luke Apfel and Cash Armstrong, turned out this morning, Tuesday, for practices that will lead up to the 2006 Arizona Football North vs. South 1A-3A All-Star game.
The celestial clash kicks off at 7 p.m. June 16 at Surprise Stadium near Phoenix.
AZFCA coaches selected the two Payson players for the all-star game at the conclusion of the 2005 season.
Former Longhorn coach Jerry Rhoades was to coach the North team, of which Apfel and Armstrong will be members, but had to decline the offer due to off-season practice commitments at his new coaching job at Scottsdale Desert Mountain High School.
The North team will now be coached by Adam Larsen of Winslow and a staff of assistants from the 1A-3A ranks.
The AZFCA all-star games annually pit the finest graduated seniors from around the state in North vs. South formatted games.
The 4A-5A All-Star game will be played June 17 also at Surprise stadium.
The all-star games were originally held on the Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff. When the Arizona Cardinals began using NAU for its preseason camp in the mid-1980s, the all-star games were moved to Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher.
Later, the games were played in Casa Grande before being moved to Surprise stadium, which is actually the spring training site of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers.
The all-star players will be housed in hotels in the Surprise area while practicing for the upcoming games.
By participating in the star clash, Armstrong and Apfel join a long list of former Longhorns. Among them are Mark Hanna, Curt Rambo, Matt Rambo, Mark Hochstettler, Ty Chilson, Ty Goodman, Mark Velasco and Carl Whittle.
For Apfel, participation in the all-star game marks the culmination of a banner season in which he staked his claim to being Payson High School's best-ever running back.
The fact Apfel was able to rush for 2,068 yards last season when the Longhorns had absolutely no passing attack to take the pressure off him is a testament to his ability. The Horns threw for just 218 yards the entire season.
"We were pretty one-dimensional. Luke had a target on him week in and week out," Rhoades said. "Everyone wanted to stop him, but no one did."
Apfel -- relying on a dashing, twisting elusive style of running -- finished as the third leading rusher in Arizona. The top ground gainer, a North Canyon running back, piled up 2,250 yards, but had 14 games to accomplish it.
Apfel's finest performances were turned in during the homecoming win over Fountain Hills and in a crucial late season showdown against Round Valley.
In leading the Horns to the homecoming triumph, he rushed for 300 yards and scored both PHS touchdowns. Just weeks later, he piled up a school record 384 yards in the Horns 35-3 upset of Round Valley.
"I think that was my best game. It was fun out there," he said.
Apfel's accomplishments earned him, at season's end, prestigious East Region Player of the Year honors.
Most impressive about Apfel's winning of the POY is the hands-down manner in which he captured it.
Usually, the battle for POY honors turns into a skirmish among voting coaches, each of whom believes his athlete is most deserving.
In this year's voting, there was no discussion about who the recipient should be, Rhoades said.
Apfel, who will play at Mesa College next season, said he is looking forward to the all-star experience.
"It should be exciting, playing with (athletes) I've always played against," he said.
Cash Armstrong's selection to the all-star team as a linebacker was probably the result of his warrior attitude.
"It was a tough year for him," Rhodes said. "He separated his shoulder early and missed two games, then came back, only to break both wrists."
In the state tournament opener against Safford, Armstrong played with casts on both wrists, but still managed to record a team high of 16 tackles.
"If we had a toughness award, he'd get it," Rhoades said.
In addition to being chosen all-region and all-star, Armstrong was an all-state second-team selection.