Payson High football coach Jake Swartwood’s meticulous attention to detail might rival that shown by the character Gustavo Fring in the television series “Breaking Bad.”
Fring’s thoroughness is evident every time he removes his jacket, folds it, rests it, and smoothes it as if he was a high-dollar valet.
But Swartwood meticulousness is rooted in his planning for the 2013 season. With the campaign set to kick off with the onset of preseason practices about 3:45 p.m. on Aug. 5, Swartwood has carefully crafted a strategy plan that he hopes will lead the Longhorns to the gridiron promised land.
His season’s plan began last week with the mandatory concussion awareness training for both players and coaches.
On Monday, preseason training begins for the about 80 student-athletes he expects to show up for the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams.
If Swartwood harbors a concern, it’s that not enough of what once was projected as a highly promising 2012 freshman team turned out for a summer camp.
“We had only four kids,” he said. “You either want to play football or you don’t.”
Swartwood is quick to remind parents that student-athletes will be allowed to practice only after they receive their mandatory physical exam and all paperwork is filed with athletic director Don Heizer.
When that is completed, the player receives a “blue card’ which signals to the coach he has been cleared to participate.
As a former PHS player himself, Swartwood has seen firsthand players sitting on the sidelines and missing out on valuable practice time because they had not yet received their physicals.
Procrastination can be a player’s worst enemy, the coach says.
The first week’s sessions, which will begin at 3:45 p.m. and wrap up about 6:30 p.m., will be held either on the Rumsey Park Kiwanis fields or at Payson Elementary School.
After five days of non-contact physical conditioning and training in shorts and T-shirts only, junior varsity and varsity candidates will receive helmets.
After another five days, the players are eligible to receive full pads and will be allowed to engage in full contact.
Swartwood, however, plans to slowly introduce contact drills until reaching full scrimmages in a few weeks.
Also after the first week of conditioning and learning, Swartwood’s plans are for the freshmen to break away from the larger group and hold their own practices.
“On the first Monday, I’ll go down and work with them and their coaches to model what we want to do on all three levels,” the coach said. “We’ll go through the playbook to install our base defense and put in some plays, possibly five running ones and two passing.”
This year, Swartwood has assembled a mostly new group of freshmen coaches that include Justin Deaton, J.B. Thornhill, Dave Hold and Heath Wacker.
Swartwood’s plans are for the Rim Country Middle School seventh- and eighth-grade teams to run the same program as the high school.
With the freshmen conducting their own practices, the junior varsity and varsity will work together as a single group breaking off on Thursdays for jayvee games.
Swartwood says his plans are for the jayvee players to hopefully play in at least three varsity contests, which is the minimum needed to earn a varsity letter.
Also, the coach wants the freshmen and jayvees to play a full schedule of 10 games rather than the punctuated slate that was played last season.
The hang up right now, he said, is finding underclass games on the dates the varsity travels to Parker and Page where freshman and jayvee games will not be played.
“We are hoping Mogollon, Snowflake and possibly Blue Ridge come through to give us those (frosh and JV) games we need,” he said.
This season, Miles Huff, Brandon Moore and Carl Curtis will coach the junior varsity.
While Huff and Moore are well known locally, Curtis is a newcomer who was a graduate assistant last season for former PHS coach Josh Anderson, now head coach at Dakota State University.
Once the freshmen break off into their own practices, the varsity/jayvee weekday sessions will extend much longer lasting sometimes until 7:30 p.m.
On the varsity staff with Swartwood will be Dave Klassen, Shawn McCarthy and Denver White.
Swartwood says Klassen, a student-teacher at Julia Randall Elementary School, will coach defense, McCarthy will handle the quarterbacks and punters and White will work with the running backs and linebackers.
Swartwood wants to work with the linemen to ensure the group fully understands the nuances of the offense and defense and what is being expected of them.
After toiling through what players are sure to consider hours and hours of mundane preseason practices, the team members will finally have the opportunity in a preseason scrimmage, to hit someone other than their own teammates.
The chance arrives at 6 p.m., Friday, Aug. 12 when both Camp Verde and Winslow will be in Payson for the first-ever three-way football scrimmage held locally.
Swartwood admits he’s not overly excited about a three-way event rather than the traditional two-team shoot-out, but it could turn into an opportunity to scout Winslow in case the two teams meet in the postseason playoffs.
“It’s a free scouting chance,” he said.
With what many players, coaches and fans consider the most exciting time of the sports year about to kick off, Swartwood paused long enough to express his gratitude to all those who have stepped up to help the program since last season wrapped up.
“I couldn’t ask the community to be more supportive than it has been,” he said. “It’s a pleasure working with all the volunteers.”