Earning all-state honors is a huge accomplishment for any high school football player.
But reaping All-Arizona honors, as PHS senior Matt Wilson did on Dec. 28, is a monumental accomplishment seldom reaped by small school players.
Those plaudits are most often doled out to the 5A players who leave college scouts drooling and banging on the stars’ doors.
The honor came as a complete surprise to Wilson, who didn’t find out about it until Sunday afternoon.
“I didn’t find out about it until we were going down (to Glendale) to the Cardinals game,” he said. “Brandon (Alexander) told me, or I probably wouldn’t have known.”
As fine and as talented as some Payson players have been over the past three decades, Wilson is only the third Longhorn to receive the All-Arizona honor.
This year’s offensive team includes some of the state’s finest players, including Michigan-bound Taylor Lewan of Scottsdale Chaparral, Chandler’s Drew Terrel who has committed to Stanford, and J.J. Holiday of Tucson Santa Rita. Holiday has accepted a scholarship to Arizona State.
The 6-foot, 6-inch 272-pound Wilson was tapped to the All-Arizona offense as a lineman, along with a mammoth group that includes Doug Zismann (Phoenix Shadow Mountain; 6 feet, 3 inches; 290 pounds), Kody Koebensky (Scottsdale Saguaro; 6-feet, 4-inches; 295 pounds), Nick Rowland (Peoria Centennial; 6 feet, 4 inches; 280 pounds), and Lewan (6 feet, 7 inches; 270 pounds).
At Payson High, Wilson is a three-year varsity starter who, at the conclusion of last season, was named first team All-East region, first team All-State and Arizona Sports Network Co-Player of the Year, along with teammate Bryan Burke.
Last summer he was named one of the state’s top 50 football players by azcentral.com.
Only three “small school” players were tapped to the top 50.
Also last summer he was named the MVP of the Big Man Challenge at a Northern Arizona University-hosted football camp.
In the Horns’ perfect 14-0 state championship season, Wilson helped Payson’s power option offense carve out 4,311 yards on the ground and 1,299 through the airways.
He was widely considered one of the finest pass and run blockers in the 3A conference.
Defensively, Wilson finished with 89 tackles, 35 of which were unassisted, four sacks for 30 yards in losses, one interception and one fumble recovery.
What Wilson contributed that most fans don’t recognize is that he forced opposing coaches to spend much of the pre-game practice week scheming on how to block him — whether double teams were needed — and how to fend off his offensive blocking.
In the state championship game, Blue Ridge often double-teamed him, hoping to gain control of the line of scrimmage.
While the strategy was somewhat successful in the first half, Wilson took over control in the final two quarters, helping fuel Payson’s amazing comeback from a three-touchdown deficit.
In addition to his accomplishments in football, Wilson excels in both basketball and track and field.
In the shot put event at last spring’s Arizona State track championships, he finished fifth with a toss of 48 feet, 10.5 inches.
In basketball last season, he was named to the 3A all-tournament team after helping the Longhorns earn a state runner-up finish.
He was also first team all-region, averaging 7.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. In addition, Wilson was Payson’s third leading shot blocker, with 14 rejections and all season long drew praise from coach Kenny Hayes for his teamwork and ability to help defend from the weak side.
As good as Wilson is athletically, he draws equally as much praise for academic excellence and character.
“It is student-athlete-citizens like Matt that positively impact the entire school,” PHS principal Roy Sandoval said. “Matt is a high academic achiever, with good moral values, who applies both in his leadership responsibilities.”
Wilson has said he would like to continue his football career next year at Northern Arizona University.
In addition to Wilson being selected All-Arizona, Payson had six other players named to the Class 1A-3A All-State team.
Center Logan Garner was named to the first team offense and linebacker David Carlen and Burke were chosen first team defense.
Quarterback Ridge Halenar was named the starting quarterback of the second team offense.
On the second team defense, Tyler Savage was tapped as a linebacker and Cody York chosen the punter.
Coach Josh Anderson was named the “Small School Coach of the Year.”
In three years at the helm of the Longhorns, Anderson has carefully built a solid program. The first year, he went 4-6 but improved to 8-4 in 2007. This year the Horns finished 14-0, won region and state championships and whipped longtime rivals Blue Ridge and Snowflake twice.
The Arizona Republic sports staff chooses the All-Arizona and All-State teams.
The newspaper says coaches’ ballots, public nominations, all-region teams, interviews with coaches, statistics and reporters’ observations are used in the selection process.