Payson High School football coach Byron Quinlan drills into every player each Monday and throughout the practice week that the next game is the most important in their season.
He suspects some might be growing tired of hearing it.
But what he is conveying is dead-on true in the life of a prep football player.
No matter who the opponent, the next game is always the most important.
Win or lose a game, the next one is the most important.
Players cannot look down the schedule toward a clash vs. a rival or a game that might be easily winnable.
The focus each practice week must be on Friday.
If the Longhorn spotlight this past week was on Fountain Hills, Payson (4-2) should return home late this evening with their fifth win of the season.
Most likely, a win would also nail down a berth in the season-ending state tournament, which is a goal of almost every high school player.
Fountain Hills (4-2 overall, 2-1 in the region) kicked off the season as a top-5 ranked team, whipping Wickenburg 10-0, Estrella Foothills 26-0 and Santa Cruz 37-0.
But then the wheels came off the Falcon wagon in a 21-14 loss to Florence.
Last week, Fountain Hills fell victim to air-Show Low, losing 42-2 primarily because Cougar quarterback Rathen Ricedorf pilfered the Falcon defense for 409 yards and five touchdowns.
Payson doesn’t have an air attack nearly as effective as Show Low, but quarterback Wade Hunsaker might be able to get the Horns passing attack cranked up and supporting a ground game led by Payson Herring and Westin Gibson.
Payson has run the ball well much of the season, but needs a passing game to be effective.
Also to secure a victory tonight, the Horns’ bend but don’t break defense — led by Clint Harper, Chase Walden, Cale Novack and Cade Despain — must be rock solid.
If the team wins at Fountain Hills, the players can celebrate all they want until tomorrow morning.
At that time, the next game is the season’s most important — that’s the way it is in football.