Being selected to the Arizona Football Coaches Association All-Star game is one of the greatest accomplishments a prep athlete can attain.
This year, however, the prestige of playing in the game has been ramped up several notches.
That’s because for the past 26 years, athletes from small-town Arizona high schools, like Payson, competed only against athletes from 1A to 3A schools for positions on an all-star team.
The 1A-3A conferences had their own star clash and 4A-5A “big schools” had a completely separate star game.
But this year, the coaches association decided to combine 2A to 5A conferences into a single all-star showdown.
Which meant, the competition to be selected an all-star turned much tougher especially for small town players forced to beat out their big school counterparts for the honor of playing.
As tough as it now is to be chosen for the all-star face-off, Payson High had two players chosen — Payson Herring and Westin Gibson.
PHS coach Byron Quinlan is elated that the Longhorns had a pair of players chosen to the exclusive squad saying, “It is now very, very difficult for small schools to get two players on (the star team).
“We did as well as any team including (state champion) Show Low and (state runner-up) Blue Ridge.”
The last year Payson High had to compete against “big school” players for all-star berths was in 1985 when Curt Rambo and Mark Hanna were chosen members of the North team.
Both Gibson and Herring say they are honored by their selection and promise they will give their best effort when the game is played this summer at a yet to be disclosed location.
Last summer the game was held at Glendale Community College and before that at Surprise Recreational Facilities.
By being an all-star selection, Herring and Gibson join an elite fraternity of former PHS athletes to have played in the game including running back Luke Apfel. In 2006, he was named the clash’s Most Valuable Player after rushing for 120 yards including a 68-yard TD scamper on the game’s very first play.
In addition to Gibson and Herring being named all-stars, both were earlier chosen to the 3A East Region first team.
Herring was selected as a running back and Gibson as a defensive back.
Although Herring (5 feet, 5 inches, 165 pounds) is not large by traditional football standards, Gibson is sure his teammate will make his presence known in practices and the game.
“Just wait and see, he will show those 5A players just how good he is,” said Gibson.
Last season, Herring proved himself to be one of the finest running backs in the state rushing for 1,231 yards on 151 carries — an average of 8.16 yards. His longest run was 72 yards and he rushed for 13 touchdowns.
He also was a steady receiver coming out of the backfield catching seven passes for 104 yards and a TD.
He also shined on special teams averaging 33 yards on nine returns. He took one return 90 yards for a touchdown.
The elusive speedster also averaged 17.80 yards on five punt returns.
Played two ways
Gibson, who admits baseball rather than football is his favorite sport, was a durable two-way player who rarely left the field.
Playing Z back, or slot, and backup quarterback, he averaged 8.84 yards on 51 carries scoring eight touchdowns.
He was also the team’s leading receiver with 20 catches for 369 yards and three TDs.
Defensively, he was one of the best cover corners in the region, averaging 3.9 tackles per game.
Some of his greatest contributions to the team came as a punt returner averaging 30.57 yards on seven returns.
He also averaged 46.33 yards on three kickoff returns.
Following the playing of the all-star game, Herring says he’d like to attend Glendale Community College where he will play football.
Gibson says he is unsure of his future, but it will center on playing baseball probably collegiately.
His goal is to eventually play professionally, hopefully in the major leagues.