Payson High School second-year coach Josh Anderson is facing a gridiron challenge sure to stir his emotions.
The confrontation centers on his return today (Friday) to the high school, Chino Valley, where he coached before taking over the Longhorn program.
Against Chino, he will be facing many of the players he helped nurture as underclassmen.
"A lot of their kids who are juniors and seniors, started for me as freshmen and then again as sophomores," he said. "They are doing so well because they have three to four years of varsity experience."
As antsy as Anderson is about returning to his former school, it is the anticipation of two 3-0 teams, as PHS and CVHS are, that has him keyed up.
"I'm actually very excited about this game even without the hype of me returning to the old stomping grounds," he said. "To me, this is the best team Chino Valley has put on the field in the history of the school.
"When you get two undefeated teams together, there is always going to be some major excitement."
Although Anderson has a great deal of respect for Chino, he's optimistic the Longhorns are ready to play.
"Each week we have gotten better with our reads, blocks and tackling as good teams do," he said. "And, I have been impressed with the attitude of the kids this week...they know it's a big game in many different ways."
After Anderson departed Chino in favor of Payson, Bob David -- a former youth league coach -- was appointed to replace him.
David inherited from Anderson several standouts including Johnny Kennedy, Cole Whisenhunt, Josh Clelland and JJ Strickland.
Anderson calls Kennedy, who plays running back, "a quick side-to-side runner, but doesn't have break away speed.
"He has excellent vision and makes a lot of people miss him on tackles."
Kennedy has rushed this season for a West region best 362 yards.
Whisenhunt continues to play the quarterback position he did for Anderson as a freshman.
"He is tall with good feet and a laser rocket for an arm," Anderson said.
On scouting fills, Whisenhunt has shown the ability to accurately hook up with his receivers, even when they are closely covered.
"I'm very impressed with him -- I knew he would be a great one when I coached him as a freshman," Anderson said.
Whisenhunt is currently the second-ranked passer in the 3A West region, with 421 yards through the airways.
Clelland, who has 249 yards in receiving this season, is the speedster on the team and is said to have turned in a 4.5 clocking in the 40-yard dash.
"He's a burner if you let him run straight downfield without bumping him," Anderson said.
Strickland is among the defensive standout for the Cougars with 21 tackles and a region-high five QB sacks.
Scouting reports show the Cougars align themselves in a variety of spread formations, including I backs, split backs and even an archaic single wing.
"Their strength has been throwing the ball," Anderson said.
Defensively, the team has shown both 4-3 and 3-4 looks, but usually is in a cover-3 backfield scheme.
Which means with the safeties playing deep, Longhorn running backs Nick Alexander, B.J. Hill and Nick Goodman could have a field day at the Cougars' expense.
Scouting reports also indicate the defensive line commits to stunts and the linebackers often blitz.
"That is the way they try to gain an advantage versus opponents, because they are not very big, just very aggressive," Anderson said.
The Horns will counter CV with a powerful rushing game led by Nick Alexander, who is averaging 152.3 yards per game.
Through the airways, signal called Ridge Halenar is averaging 76.3 yards, but he was six-for-seven for 144 yards three touchdowns in the Horns 48-7 win last week over Florence.
Middle linebacker David Carlen has been the defensive leader, averaging 13 tackles and 1.3 sacks per game.
Goodman is the leading scorer, with eight points per game.
MaxPreps, an Internet site that covers high school football nationwide, is predicting Payson will beat Chino Valley 20-14.
Kick off in Chino Valley is 7 p.m.