The smell of pigskin is once again wafting through the air of small town Arizona.
The onset of the 2010 high school football season is just over the horizon.
In Payson, first-year head football coach Byron Quinlan has been preparing his charges for the rugged 3A East season in weekday conditioning sessions and 7-on-7 passing league competition.
On July 6 and July 8, the Longhorn summer squad traveled to Fountain Hills for passing league games.
On the first trip, only Fountain Hills and Payson played. The second day, however, four teams, Scottsdale Christian, Coronado, FH and Payson competed in a round robin.
While official scores are not recorded in summer play, Quinlan returned from the second session elated with his athletes’ efforts.
“The kids played really well,” he said. “Much better than the first trip (to Fountain Hills).
“That shows two things, the kids are very coachable and they are making corrections.”
A crew of 18 varsity hopefuls participated in the games, which are similar to touch football.
For some of the passing league competitions, which feature Tuesday and Thursday evening intrasquad games, Bret Morse has assisted Quinlan.
His presence is good news for Longhorn faithful since Morse was an assistant on Payson’s 1998 and 2008 state championship teams and has a wealth of knowledge he can share with the players.
In 2008, he was the team’s offensive coordinator and helped engineer the team’s dramatic double-overtime comeback win from a 21-0 halftime deficit to Blue Ridge.
Although Quinlan is in his first year as head coach, he reeks of Longhorn tradition having starred in football, basketball and track and field at PHS in the mid 1990s.
He also served a stint as the school’s head soccer coach and last year was an assistant varsity basketball coach.
He has been in the football program as an assistant for the past three years.
Byron’s father, Jim, was a longtime Payson High School basketball coach.
Byron succeeds Matt Mayo, who resigned last spring after one year at the helm of the football program.
As for the athletes participating this summer, Quinlan is lauding a core of them who, he says, have consistently shown up for weight training, conditioning and workouts.
They include Sean Ford, Ryan Risland, J.B. Thorhnill and Payson Herring.
Ford was a member of Payson’s 2008 state championship team and last year played defensive end on a very disappointing 3-7 team that finished fifth in the six-team East Region.
Quinlan said he is expecting Ford to this year provide leadership for the younger team members.
Risland is also a veteran, but was injured in 2009 summer workouts and didn’t rejoin the team until early October.
He did, however, make an immediate impact upon his return. Against Fountain Hills, he returned the opening kickoff 93 yards to give the Horns an early 7-0 lead. Payson eventually lost 15-7.
Fans can expect Risland to possibly be a two-way starter and probably see plenty of action on special teams.
Thornhill also struggled with an injury last season breaking his hand, which also limited his participation in wrestling. He, however, has the size needed to eventually become a stalwart on the defensive and offensive lines.
In track and field last fall, he represented the Longhorns in the shot put and discus.
Herring boasts gobs of gridiron talent as a speedy and shifty running back, but the injury bug has bitten him too.
In 2008, he tweaked his knee and was in and out of the state championship game as doctors and trainers treated him. He now wears a leg brace, but most onlookers say he has not lost any of his elusiveness.
Last season, Herring was the Horns’ leading runner, picking up 504 yards in 58 carries. With seven touchdowns, he was also the team’s leading scorer.
Camp begins Monday
Next on the summer agenda is the team’s annual summer camp, which kicks off with registration at 9 a.m. July 19 in Wilson Dome. The camp fee is $50, which includes all meals.
During the camp, Payson players will bed down in old PHS gymnasium and visiting players from three other high schools will call Wilson Dome home.
Training and practice sessions will be held three times each day and passing league games will be played in the evening under the lights. The camp is open to all prospective players entering ninth- through 12th-grade at PHS. While the camp is not mandatory, Quinlan is strongly urging all prospective players to participate.
Preseason practices begin Aug. 2 on the Payson High football field. On Aug. 27, the Longhorns open the season by hosting the St. Johns Redskins.