Payson High football coach Byron Quinlan is anticipating the Luke Steege-coached Camp Verde Cowboys will give his Longhorns a strong test in a preseason scrimmage to kick off at 5:30 p.m. today.
“They are physical, aggressive and well coached,” said Quinlan. “We didn’t play them in summer league, but we saw them (play) and I was impressed.”
The Cowboys will also present a unique challenge in that they are expected to feature a rather unique 34 defense and a spread option offense from a shotgun formation.
The defense is no modern-day gimmick — it was devised by former Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkenson in the 1940s and is today used by several NFL teams.
The “D” can be a challenge for high school linemen to block and quarterbacks to read because the front seven feature three down linemen and four linebackers who can align themselves at different positions on the line of scrimmage and with different assignments.
The linemen can also “stem” or shift positions before the ball is snapped.
Even Peyton Manning has had trouble attacking the 34 in games against the Chargers, Steelers and Patriots.
The spread option could also present Payson with problems because the “O” allows teams to use speed and athleticism to exploit gaps created by the wide distribution of players, often from hash mark to hash mark.
The most popular play in most spread option offense is the zone-read in which the quarterback “reads” the backside defensive end or linebacker and decides whether or not to hand the ball to a running back on a dive or keep the ball and run counter to the blocking scheme.
Florida’s Urban Meyer helped innovate the offense.
With the Longhorns facing the 34 and the spread option, the team must be cerebral, physical and play their assignments.
For the Horns
Payson will counter with its base 43 defense, which the team has used since former coach Jerry Rhoades installed it in 2003 after using it extensively at his previous stop in Mingus.
Ironically, Rhoades has switched to a 34 defense in his new position as defensive coordinator at Desert Mountain.
“I just love the 34,” said Rhoades.
Tonight, assistant coaches Jake Swartwood, Slade Gibson and Scott Novak will call the PHS defense.
Offensively, Quinlan will call the plays in Payson’s power option offense, with headset help from assistant Bret Morse.
Quinlan said at midweek the offense and defense would be very “vanilla” to simplify assignments for the players and not give away much information to opposing scouts who might be in the stands.
For the scrimmage, each team will have a pre-determined number of plays, probably 60, alternating 10 on offense and 10 on defense.
The two teams’ junior varsities will scrimmage for about 20 plays after the varsity clash wraps up.
No score will be officially kept and coaches will be allowed on the field to stop play and give instruction when needed.
Many Payson fans will turn out to see a player they’ve probably heard a good deal about over the summer.
Quarterback Wade Hunsaker, a senior who transferred recently to Payson from Centennial, is said to have the potential to become a first-rate signal caller.
Also sure to grab the attention of Horns fans is senior tailback Payson Herring, who pulled off some impressive gridiron accomplishments two years ago on the Longhorns’ undefeated state championship team.
Westin Gibson, whose season was cut short last year by injuries, will play “Z” back this year.
Sean Ford appears to be a postseason honors candidate at center and Jake Gonzales is rounding into a capable offensive guard.
Ryan Risland, Josh Oakland and Cameron Geske give the Horns a capable trio of receivers.
Defensively, Oceanside, Calif. transfer Clint Harper has been impressive, as have Chance Randall, Cale Novack and Cade Despain. Edwin Estrada and Cameron Romance give the Horns depth on both sides of the ball.
At some preseason scrimmages, players wear practice jerseys which are not numbered, making it tough for fans to ID players. Quinlan said the Longhorn players would wear numbered jerseys this evening