Payson Athletes Prepare For Football, Baseball All-Star Games

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Participation in the most prestigious All-Star games of the postseason is just over the horizon for a trio of former Longhorns and a coach.

Zak Miller, Jake Willis, Jason Sweet and coach Josh Anderson were selected earlier this spring to be members of the North teams in the Arizona Coaches Association High School All-Star games.

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Zak Miller

Miller will compete in the 1A-3A-football game set to kick off at 7 p.m. June 15.

Anderson, who will begin his second year at the helm of the Longhorn program in the fall, is on the North coaching staff.

In the 3A All-Star baseball star clash set for 7 p.m. June 9, Willis and Sweet will play.

All three All-Star players graduated last week with the Payson High School class of 2007. The City of Surprise will host the All-Star games, including those in the 4A/5A ranks in softball and volleyball.

All games are played in Surprise Stadium, which is the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers.

Miller was chosen an All-Star at the conclusion of a 2006 season, in which he was named All-Region and All-State first team. He was also the recipient of the Longhorns' "Mr. Defense" award and lauded by Anderson as an all-around, highly coachable player, who contributed to the team cause on both sides of the ball.

Miller also enters the star game with big Longhorn shoes to fill. His former teammate, Luke Apfel, won the Most Valuable Player award at the 2006 games.

Apfel, who just finished his freshman year at Northern Arizona University, has friendly advice for Miller.

"Enjoy the game and make new friends with some of the players you have always played against," he said.

Apfel is also certain Miller will enjoy playing in the state-of-the-art surroundings of Surprise Stadium.

"It's a major league, top-of-the-line facility, from the locker rooms to the field to the (Jumbotron) big screen," he said.

Anderson advances to the All-Star game after leading the Longhorns to a 4-5 record, 2-3 in the East.

Following the tumultuous year, in which the coach booted six players from the team for rules violations, he said, "The kids that stayed out for football the entire year learned a lot about the meaning of friendship, sacrifice, commitment, loyalty and pride."

Willis added another postseason award to his long list of citations when he was named last weekend to The Arizona Republic's Class 1A-3A All-State second team.

Although Willis was a pitcher for the Longhorns, he was chosen to the All-State team as an infielder. Also on the teams from the East region were Olen Hatch (Holbrook), Derek Fusselman (Snowflake), Jo-Jo Murphy (Show Low) and Jared Hatch (Holbrook).

During Willis' senior year, he led the Longhorns to an 18-11 record and a berth in the state tournament. He wrapped up the campaign as the East region's second-leading hitter with a .560 average. He also led the region in stolen bases with 21 and had 27 RBIs.

Sweet was chosen to the ACA All-Star game as a first baseman, but spent most of his four-year varsity career on the mound. During the past season, he was 4-6 with a 6.22 ERA.

Offensively, he hit .381 with eight doubles.

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