The Longhorn football team honored one of its own just prior to kick off Friday evening in Payson High School stadium.
A moment of silence was held and private prayers spoken in honor of former Longhorn football player Jimmy Welker who died Sept. 5 at 37-years-of-age.
Services for Jimmy were held Sept. 9 at the Prescott Valley chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He and his wife, Susan, and six children, had lived in Prescott for the past 10 years.
Jimmy was a 1987 Payson High School graduate and a four-year member of the Longhorn football program.
I had the privilege of coaching Jimmy on the 1985 PHS junior varsity and the following year on the varsity state-runner-up team.
My fondest memory of Jimmy is from the fall of 1985 when I met him for the very first time on the sidelines of Longhorn field.
As a first-year football coach at PHS, I was a little worried how the Longhorn football players would accept me.
I had just arrived in the Rim Country from Show Low where I had been the Cougars head coach.
The two seasons prior to my arriving in Payson, my Cougar teams had narrowly beaten the Longhorns in two torrid games. One, which was for the East championship, went into overtime.
The spring before my arrival in Payson, a brawl broke out in a Longhorn vs. Show Low basketball game.
To say there was a good deal of tension in the air when the two long-time region rivals clashed is an understatement.
Knowing that, I was sure the Longhorn football players weren't going to embrace a longtime rival from Show Low.
But as I walked on the field and approached a group of players, Jimmy walked up stuck out his hand and said, "Welcome to Payson, coach."
From that moment on, I was a Longhorn.
Those of us who were on those two PHS teams with Jimmy treasure the many fond memories we have of him.
Mark Velasco, now an environmental engineer in Flagstaff, knew Jimmy most all his life.
"He was so positive and always upbeat," Mark said. "I remember coming off the field and he'd say ‘nice job' or ‘way to go'."
Eric Anderson, now a Payson dentist, marveled at Jimmy's perseverance, "He never quit, he always tried so hard at everything he did including football."
Mike Loutzenheiser, now a high school football coach in North Carolina was shocked when he learned of Jimmy's death.
He remembers Jimmy as a player who would make any sacrifice for the team.
"He was the kind of teammate we all want to have,"he said. "You could always count on him."
What I remember about Jimmy was his character.
He was an Eagle Scout, an active member of his church and an absolutely dependable, loyal kid.
Jimmy didn't whine, complain or make excuses.
When Jimmy was asked to take on a task, he did it to the best of his ability.
There were kids with more athletic ability than Jimmy, but none had more character.
For two memorable seasons he was our teammate and our friend.
Jimmy will not be forgotten.