Justin Carlen's monthlong wait to see if he qualified for the regional Pepsi Punt, Pass and Kick championship is over.
The 11-year-old home school student learned early this week that his scores in a sectional competition were good enough to earn him a berth in the regional finals to be held Dec. 17 in the Glendale stadium home of the Arizona Cardinals. Also that day, the Cards will play host to the Denver Broncos.
"The kids will compete in the morning and then go out on the field during halftime to do a Punt, Pass and Kick Demonstration," said Town of Payson Recreation Coordinator Mary McMullen.
It was McMullen who oversaw the local competition when it was held Sept. 8 on the PHS baseball field.
After winning the Payson 11-12-years boys competition, Carlen advanced to the sectional showdown held Oct. 21 at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
There, he combined three distances for a punt pass and kick, totaling 243 feet. The mark represented a significant improvement over the standard of 213 feet, 4 inches he strung together in winning the Payson championship. But after winning the sectional showdown, he had to wait to learn if his mark was good enough to earn him a berth in regionals.
To qualify, his point total had to be among the three best at contests held throughout Arizona and New Mexico.
Arizona PP&K coordinator Mike Davis of the Glendale Parks and Recreational Department informed Carlen that his marks were good enough to qualify him.
First time out
Carlen said winning the local and regional championships came as a surprise because it was his first attempt at the competition and he was entered against others who had more experience.
He does call, however, the kick to be his best single event.
"That's because I practice it a lot at Rumsey Park," he said.
Originally, the regional championships were to be held Dec. 10 when the Cardinals play the Seattle Seahawks.
Carlen said that would have been a thrill because, "the Seahawks are my favorite team."
Although he wanted to see Seattle in action, Carlen says he's not disappointed the competition has been changed to a date when the Cards host the Broncos.
Also, he said, the extra week created by the change of dates will allow him more practice time to hone his gridiron skills.
What is Punt, Pass and Kick?
The NFL program, formerly sponsored by Gatorade, is a national skills competition for boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 15 to compete individually against their peers.
Established in 1961, the program is the oldest NFL Youth Football program.
Girls and boys in four separate age divisions (8-9, 10-11, 12-13, and 14-15) compete against one another in punting, passing and place kicking.
The program is free, both to organizers and children who compete.
It has been held locally for more than a decade.
Two past Payson age/sex group champions who went on to play at the next level are Amy Wilcox and Waylon Pettet.