Tapping Gridiron's Finest A Hard Choice


Selecting East All-Region players turned into a challenging and daunting task for six small-town Arizona high school football coaches.

The difficulty in choosing the region's finest gridders was due to the number of exceptional athletes and teams the East churned out during the past football season.

"It was a tough decision process because five of the six (East) teams were 5-0 in non-region (play) and had outstanding seasons," PHS coach Josh Anderson said.

"It's hard to leave kids out of all-region when they deserve it, but you have to factor in that other schools have the same situation I had."

A real indication that there was an unusual overload of quality athletes in the East the past year, was the number of quarterbacks, four, chosen first team.

They were Bryan Williams (Blue Ridge), Jared MacArthur (Show Low), Hayden Eagar (Round Valley) and Ridge Halenar (Payson).

"We do not fill the all-region spots by position, but by athlete," Anderson said. "That's why you see four QB's on the first team."

As daunting as picking out the premier players was for East coaches, Anderson lauds the dilemma, "a good problem to have if you have a load of talented athletes."

As tough as the selection process was for the coaches of Blue Ridge, Snowflake, Round Valley, Alchesay, Show Low and Payson high schools, the Longhorns fared reasonably well, with 11 players selected first team, second team or honorable mention.

Regular season East champion Blue Ridge thoroughly dominated the selection process with a whopping 17 players chosen, including five on first team offense and four on the defensive first team.

Also from BR, Paul Moro was selected coach coach of the year and Williams tapped the offensive player of the year.

State champion Show Low, which beat Blue Ridge 17-7 in the state tournament quarterfinals, had only 12 players chosen and just two on the first team offense.

Defensive player of the year honors was doled out to Round Valley middle linebacker Travis Trickey.

Longhorn honorees

All-East first team offensive selections from Payson were Ridge Halenar, Nick Alexander and Matt Wilson.

PHS first team defensive selections were David Carlen and Bryan Burke.

B. J. Hill and Nick Goodman were chosen to the second-team offense and Tyler Savage and Zack Brooks to the second team defense.

Scott Andrus and Shane Keith were on the honorable mention list.

Offensive stars

Halenar, a 5-foot, 9-inch 178-pound junior, pulled the trigger on the Longhorns ground-oriented power option offense.

He finished with 474 yards rushing on 76 carries and scored eight touchdowns. His best game on the ground, 100 yards, was chalked up Aug. 31 in a 21-3 win over eventual North champion Winslow.

Through the airways, he completed 83 of 148 attempts for 1,107 yards and 14 TDs. He threw only four interceptions, lost just three fumbles and finished with a QB rating of 100.

Although his East recognition was on offense, he was also one of the Longhorns best defensive players and fiercest hitters.

From his safety position, he had 63 tackles and four pass interceptions.

A perfect complement to Halenar's off tackle and quarterback keeper runs was the inside dives and traps plays by 5-foot, 8-inch, 195-pound fullback Nick Alexander.

The senior finished with 925 yards on 127 carries and nine TDs. His average of 7.28 yards per carry was one of the best in the East.

His finest game was the 227 yards he racked up in the win over Winslow. One week later in defeating Florence 48-7, Alexander rushed for 141 yards.

Equally as commendable, in most coaches' eyes, to his rushing accomplishments, is what is known as "ball security." In 11 games of churning out tough yardage between the tackles, he fumbled only once.

Wilson, a two-way lineman with D-1 potential written all over him, anchored the offensive line from his tackle slot.

It was his responsibility to clear the way inside with scoop blocks, down blocks and occasional pulls and traps.

Although "O" linemen traditionally receive very little recognition, Wilson's selection to the first team aligns him with a select group of former Longhorn line greats including Matt Rambo, Mark Velasco, Carl Whittle and others.

During the year, Wilson had one chance at fame, glory and headlines as a running back. On his single carry, he rushed for six yards.

Defensively, Wilson was third in the East region in sacks with eight. He also racked up 64 tackles and recovered one fumble.

Defensive stalwarts

The responsibilities of holding down the middle linebacker or "Mike" slot in defensive coordinator Kenny Hayes 43 scheme fell upon the shoulder pads of 5-foot, 11-inch, 190-pound junior David Carlen.

He responded with a commendable season in which he was in on 149 tackles, 74 of which were unassisted. His average of 12.4 tackles per game was among the region's best marks. He also had four sacks for 25 yards in losses, all of which were recorded against Winslow. He had one interception which he returned for 15 yards.

Among Hayes's bandits, Carlen was the glue that held the parts in place.

Offensively, he saw considerable playing time at tight end, mostly as a blocker. He did however have four pass receptions for 106 yards.

Burke, a 6-foot, 5-inch, 211-pound tackle teamed with Wilson to give the Horns one of the biggest one-two defensive line punches in the 3A conference.

During the course of the season, he participated in 82 tackles 45 unassisted. He also racked up seven sacks for 91 yards in losses, intercepted a pass and recovered four fumbles.

Burke went on a three-game hot streak early in the season, recording two sacks each in wins over Florence, Chino Valley and Bradshaw Mountain

His height and wingspan rendered blocking him a tough chore for opposing linemen.

All-Stars next

With the East region selection process at an end, all that remains is for head coaches to gather Dec. 9 in the Valley to select the seniors who will play in the annual Arizona Coaches Association North vs. South All-Star game.

Those chosen will be announced Dec. 13 at the Longhorns' annual award banquet. The time and location of the event will be announced soon.

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