Editor’s Note: Max Foster has retired. Honest. But when he heard that our new sports editor, Keith Morris, won’t be here for two weeks, he started filing stories anyway. What can I tell you: It’s Max.
Much of the success or failure of high school football teams hinges on coaches plugging their players during preseason practices into where they can best help the overall team effort.
Payson High second-year football head coach Jake Swartwood knows that fact of gridiron life well and with the traditional preseason scrimmage just days away, he’s settling on lineups.
The Horns debut at 6 p.m., Friday, Aug. 23 at PHS field in a three-way controlled scrimmage vs. Winslow and Camp Verde.
Although Swartwood has not chiseled his position assignments in granite, he has a good handle on which players will play where.
In the backfield, Miguel Mendoza will pull the trigger in the Longhorn offense.
A senior, Mendoza has played quarterback off and on since he was a sophomore under former coach Byron Quinlan.
Fans who have watched Mendoza play both football and baseball over the past three seasons know him has a hard-nosed competitor always up to challenges thrown his way.
At the running back positions, Swartwood has three players — Wyatt Chapman, Trevor Anderson and Brian Skinner — who he thinks can deliver the goods.
Fans will remember Chapman as a freshman sprinter and long jumper who during last school year’s track and field season blossomed into one of the finest in the state.
Trevor Anderson, a junior, saw plenty of playing time last season and despite his size (5 feet, 8 inches, 145 pounds) turned in some commendable games at nose guard.
Trevor comes from a family rich in Longhorn football tradition. His father, Eric, and uncles, Mike and Jason, starred for the Horns in the 1980s and ’90s.
Skinner is a 6-foot-1-inch, 170-pound sophomore who is listed as both a quarterback and running back.
The battle for starting fullback honors has come down to a duel between Tate Sweeney and Jake Ames.
“That position is up for grabs,” says Swartwood.
At the wide and slot receiver position, Swartwood can call upon Tyus Sarnowski and Jared Varner.
Sarnowski once started at quarterback and was a vital cog on last spring’s baseball team that reached the Division III state semifinals.
Varner, Swartwood said, “Has really stepped up, we are expecting good things from him.”
Tight end duties will most likely fall on the broad shoulders of 6-foot-5-inch 240-pound William Youngberg who played at PHS two years ago, but then transferred to Blue Ridge and Alchesay before returning to the Longhorn fold.
Swartwood predicts Youngberg also might play some at tackle.
There are those head coaches who, for whatever reasons, don’t spend much time with the offensive linemen, preferring to turn those duties over to an assistant.
But Swartwood is not one of those — he’s spent much of the preseason coaching up the linemen and setting the stage for the group to anchor PHS gridiron hopes. Steve Perry, Dakota Harold, Jesus Apodaca and Noah Wood could be the O-line starters for the upcoming scrimmage.
Obviously, when those four take to the field, no one will be asking “Where’s the beef?”
Perry tips the scales at 265 pounds, Apodaca weighs in at 210 and Wood is a healthy 280 pounds. Harold, who will probably start at center, is the lightweight in the group at 185 pounds.
While those four are front runners for starting honors, Swartwood admits he’s high on 5-foot-9-inch, 200-pound sophomore Tito Vega, “His work ethic alone will get him on the field.”
Defensively, Swartwood and his staff continue to tinker with different lineups trying to find the athletes to successfully staff a 4-3, cover 3 scheme.
To some, the defense could resemble a 4-4 ...
No matter what the alignment, success depends on the athletes and the Horns appear to have several moxie defenders.
Jessie Berry, Donovan Cross, Bobby Lloyd, Dean Harpe, Angel Pena, Brigham Flake and Bowen Sweeney are among the players the coaches are hoping help shoulder the defensive load.
Swartwood is particularly high on Pena — a newcomer — saying, “It’s going to be hard keeping him off the field.”
After two weeks of preseason training and a football camp, Swartwood is impressed with the camaraderie being shown by the team.
“They are about as tight a group as I’ve seen,” he said. “The kids are reaching out to help and teach one another.”
If there is a concern among Longhorn faithful, it’s the lack of numbers in the program.
Currently the jayvee and varsity roster includes only 30 players, which could mean if there are injuries, ineligibilities or defections down the schedule road, replacements will be scarce.
But Swartwood refuses to dwell on “what ifs” saying the team members believe that the only thing the low numbers mean is that they are an elite group to be reckoned with.
As proof, the players have nicknamed themselves “The Dirty 30” in reference to a small but scrappy team that will battle like junkyard dogs to the final whistle.