It’s more than nostalgic for longtime Longhorn football fans to glance over to the West region and see a friendly rival building Goodyear Estella Foothills into a state championship contender.
Rich Hoyt, in his 43rd year of coaching football, has ties to PHS football that date back to the mid 70s when he was head coach at Williams High School.
The relationship continued through the decades with Hoyt-coached teams from Snowflake, Winslow and Parker challenging the Longhorns. Hoyt also spent a stint at Glendale Independence, but those teams never faced the Horns.
Along the gridiron path, Hoyt formed friendships with many former PHS football coaches and has garnered the respect of ex-Longhorn players who have come to know how well coached his teams were.
Although the Arizona Coaches Association Hall of Famer is now a little long in the tooth, he appears to have Estrella Foothills knocking on the door of a state crown, just as he did at most all his former stops.
Last season, Hoyt’s first year at the helm of the Wolves program, he led the team to a 9-3 record and a berth in the state tournament. The season was the finest in the school’s history. EF eventually reached the 3A quarterfinals before losing to Blue Ridge.
This year, Hoyt is building what is expected to be a contending team on the shoulders of returning starters Michael Bentley, Troy Coleman and Avery Boykin.
Both Payson and Estrella are state top five ranked teams in most polls.
Hoyt’s relationship with Payson football has its roots in the late 1970s when he was head coach at Williams High School.
In 1978, a homestanding Viking team with a freshman tight end by the name of Tom Fruth put a serious first round playoff licking on the Longhorns.
Fruth played one more year for Hoyt before transferring to Payson High School where — as an all-everything running back — he led the Horns to an undefeated season and the 1981 Class B state championship.
Since, Fruth’s jersey number has been retired and hangs in Wilson dome. All PHS running backs since the state championship year have been measured by the exploits of Fruth.
For years, Hoyt was the butt of a good deal of good-natured ribbing about losing a player of Fruth’s caliber to a rival.
Hoyt left Williams in 1984 to take over at Snowflake, where he led the Lobos to state championships in 1985 and 86.
In the 1986 championship game, the Lobos edged past the gutsy Longhorns 7-0 partly by corralling standout running back Ty Chilson.
After the game, Hoyt admitted the key to the game was controlling sweeps by Chilson behind pulling guards Mark Velasco and Matt Rambo.
He was also seen after the game shaking hands with all three, congratulating them on a fine effort.
Hoyt left Snowflake in 1986 to spend two years at Independence. In 1991 he became Winslow’s head coach and in a regular season non-region game, his Dogs dropped a 12-0 decision to the Horns thanks in part to the offensive and defensive efforts of fullback/safety Bo Althoff.
After the game, Hoyt declared Althoff was the difference maker.
The same year, Hoyt was inducted in the Hall of Fame and joined later in the hall by former PHS coach Terry Nodlinski.
Hoyt eventually took the Dogs to the state finals in 1994 and semifinals in 1995.
After a stint in Homedale, Idaho, where his teams were 48-15, Hoyt returned to Parker where he spent two years before moving to Estrella Foothills. While at Parker, Hoyt’s Broncos lost 34-0 to the Longhorns.
Now, it appears very likely that Hoyt could once again be on track to face a Payson team, this time in the 2009 state tournament.
If that scenario should unfold, it would be Deja vu all-over again for the venerable old coach and his cadre of Rim Country football friends.