Although Payson High (3-7 overall, 1-4 in the region) didn’t enjoy a 2009 football season to write home about, East head coaches thought enough of the players to dole out all-region honors to 10 team members.
Mason Dacanay and Logan Garner were named to the first team offense and Nick Johnson and Max Johnson were voted to the first team defense.
On the second team offense were Schaffer Keith and Ryan Rislund. Cameron Geske and Gunner Bauer received second team defensive laurels.
Payson Herring and Dakota Marshall were honorable mention.
For first teamers Dacanay and Garner, receiving postseason honors was nothing new.
At the conclusion of last season, a campaign in which the Horns finished 14-0 and won the state title, Garner was named to the Arizona All-State and East Region first teams.
Dacanay was all-state honorable mention and second team all-region.
At the onset of the 2009 season, Garner played center just as he had the previous year. But after breaking his hand midway through the season, he was moved to guard. He also helped anchor the defensive line.
At the onset of the season, Dacanay took over starting nose guard responsibilities from Ryan Schatz who graduated in the spring. On offense, he carried the load at both guard and tackle.
Nick Johnson held down the “Mike” or middle linebacker slot in defensive coordinator Byron Quinlan’s 43 scheme. Known as a bruising tackler with a nose for the ball, he wrapped up the season as the East’s leading tackler with 153 stops.
Although he was honored for defense rather than offense, he also was the Horns starting fullback and led the team in rushing with 435 yards on 92 carries.
Nick Johnson started the entire season son at “Sam” or strong side backer and was second in the East in tackles with 88. He also had three interceptions to tie for the region lead. On offense, he played “Y” or tight end.
Keith went both ways for the Longhorns rotating between nose and tackle on the defensive line and playing mostly tackle on “O.”
In most every game, as lopsided as some turned into, the teen played with tenacity and a refusal to give way that would please the most demanding of line coaches.
Last season, Keith was honorable mention all-state and second team all-region.
With Dacanay (5 feet, 10 inches, 297 pounds), Garner (5 feet, 9 inches, 232 pounds) and Keith (6 feet, 1 inch, 284 pounds), the Longhorns had one of the largest trio of linemen in the state.
Throughout the year, all three showed the talent to continue their careers at the next level if they so desire.
Rislund’s selection to the second team offense might be a mild surprise to some because he missed much of the early season with a broken collarbone suffered in a summer passing league.
Once he did return, he shined on special teams, played some “X” or wide receiver and on defense held down both free safety and cornerback responsibilities.
Rislund might have turned in his best game in a 52-0 late season win over Alchesay.
He returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and lit up the scoreboard again late in the first quarter on a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown.
In a 15-7 loss to Fountain Hills, Rislund’s first game back from the injury, he returned a kickoff 93 yards for a TD.
Geske’s aggressive attitude might have been among the reason coaches chose him to the all-region team. As a strong safety, Quinlan often blitzed and stunted Geske in attempts to disrupt the offense. It was apparent to all who watched, Geske enjoyed contact, which made him a force to reckon with. He also rotated often at cornerback on defense.
Bauer might have been the most coachable teen on the team, which undoubtedly contributed to his receiving the most improved award at the team’s season-ending ceremony. On “D” he held down the defensive end slot and on offense rotated with Max Johnson at tight end.
Herring starred on last year’s team, but moved out of Payson during the summer and didn’t return to the football team until several games into the season. In 2008, he was all-state honorable mention and All-East second team.
The past year, he shined on special teams, started several games at running back and received playing time at strong safety after Westin Gibson was injured.
At 6 feet, 5 inches, Marshall — who also plays basketball and baseball — was an inviting target in the Longhorns’ limited passing attack. Although he caught just 11 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns, he was the team leader in receptions. On defense, he was the defensive end often charged with corralling opponent’s sweeps and power plays.
If there were some disappointments in the selection process it was the absence of two of Payson’s most talented players — Brandon Alexander and Gibson. In 2008, Gibson was All-East second team and honorable mention all-state. Alexander was second team All-East. Although both opened the year as two of the most promising players to ever don PHS uniforms, both went down with injuries and did not finish the campaign.
Alexander suffered a concussion in Payson’s 15-7 loss to Fountain Hills. Because it was his second concussion of the season, he was advised not to return to play and risk further injury.
As a running back and defensive back, Alexander had been a big part of the Longhorn football program for three seasons.
Gibson sat out the loss to Fountain Hills with an ankle injury that eventually sidelined him for the remainder of the season. He might have been the most athletically gifted player on the team holding down quarterback, running back and safety responsibilities. The good news regarding the injury is that doctors now expect him to recover, “and be 100 percent for baseball,” said his father Slade.
More to come
With the all-region selections in the rearview mirror, players will await the announcement of those who made the 3A All-State team. The selections are expected to be made public Dec. 13.
Also, the Arizona Football Coaches Association will meet in about two weeks to select the seniors who will play in the annual North vs. South All-Star game. The game is traditionally played in June at a professional baseball spring training site in Surprise.