A week-long preseason training camp and 10 after-school practice sessions have given first-year Payson High football head coach Matt Mayo the opportunity to assess his new team.
His evaluation is relatively simple — everything seems to be falling in place for the team to continue the winning tradition of 2008.
“We have a great senior class coming in, they are picking up where they left off last year and have really taken this off-season as a challenge,” he said. “They have responded really well.”
Among those who have impressed the new coach, and apparently their teammates based on the fact they were elected team captains during camp, are Logan Garner, Brandon Alexander and brothers Max and Nick Johnson.
All were huge contributors to last season’s championship run with Garner playing center, Alexander at tailback and the Johnsons both playing fullback and linebacker.
Mayo calls the camp a “great overall team-building experience” and one in which the PHS players showed well in both big-man competitions and passing league tournaments against Class 4A and 5A teams.
Following the conclusion of camp, 96 student-athletes turned out for the opening day of practice on Aug. 3.
“We will be smaller on the offensive line and have some holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball,” Mayo said. “Many positions are still up for grabs.”
The new coach originally said he might tinker with the 43 defensive scheme that coordinator Kenny Hayes used the past three seasons, but now says the “D” will remain basically the same.
A change, however, is that Byron Quinlan — a Longhorn star running back from the mid 1990s — will replace Hayes as defensive coordinator. Hayes resigned last summer to become defensive coordinator at Dakota State University.
Also new to the staff are Jared Swanson, Bob Watson, Ryan St. John and Josh Herford.
Swanson, also the PHS boys basketball coach, will coach the wide receivers and the junior varsity. Watson is in charge of the quarterbacks and defensive backs and St. John heads the freshman program. Herford is a freshman assistant coach.
Among the crew, Watson is the senior member, having retired recently from the Mesa School District where he coached and taught for more than 30 years.
“He’s fantastic with kids,” Mayo said.
The new head coach will serve as offensive coordinator in an “O” he’s not ready to identify.
What he would say about it is, “mostly I formation, a few wrinkles, but overall similar to last year’s (power option) but less option ... smaller, quicker offensive attack.”
The season kicks off at 5 p.m., Friday, Aug. 21 in a controlled scrimmage against Camp Verde. It will be held in Longhorn stadium.
On Aug. 28 in St. Johns, the season begins in earnest against the defending 2A state champion Redskins. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.