Success on the high school football field is directly dependent on the players’ dedication to the off-season program.
That’s the view of Payson High School second-year coach Jake Swartwood who admits he’s concerned that not enough prospective players are taking advantage of this summer’s weight training and 7-on-7 passing league sessions.
Swartwood’s contention is that weight training is the cornerstone of success rings true when you look back at the history of Payson High School football.
Players dedicated to the off-season program led the past Longhorn teams that were most successful — 1981, 1986, 1987, 1998 and 2008. They trained hard, trained smart and trained often.
In 1986, after a mediocre previous season, a group of linemen who went on to call themselves “The Bruise Brothers” stepped up their commitment to off-season weight training spending most summer evenings, and some weekend days, in a run down PHS weight room that lacked some of the basic amenities other schools had.
Nonetheless, the linemen — led by Matt Rambo, John Stiavelli and Mark Velasco — trained religiously scolding onlookers that their dedication would pay dividends the next season.
Although that team boasted a number of talented so-called “skill players” The Bruise Brothers proved to be the nucleus that held the team together in its run to the state championship finale.
In the end, the team had to settle for state runner-up honors, losing a 7-0 thriller to Snowflake, but the players’ commitment to weight training and conditioning lifted the Horns to heights they hadn’t enjoyed in five years.
During the following summer’s Arizona Coaches Association North vs. South All-Star practices in Flagstaff, coaches continually praised Velasco and Rambo as two of the best-conditioned and strongest linemen on the team.
The pair’s dominance showed up in the game as the two helped the South control the line of scrimmage against a more heralded North team.
In 1987, most of The Bruise Brothers graduated allowing another group dedicated to off-season conditioning to step up and provide leadership.
Led by fullback/linebacker Greg Alexander and two-way lineman Russ Cubbison, the Horns ran away with the A-West championship and advanced to the state semifinals before dropping a heartbreaker to Blue Ridge.
The 1998 undefeated state championship team was bolstered by some of the finest athletes to ever don PHS uniforms. Most all — including linebacker/fullback Cable Morris — had by their senior years become faster, stronger and better conditioned thanks to the hours upon hours spent in the weight room.
“This (weight training) was really important for me,” said Morris who now is vice president of a Valley machine manufacturing company. “One of the benefits of being in the weight room throughout the summer was the constant reminder of the goal at hand.”
Morris recalls that the demanding summers of conditioning and strength training had the players primed and ready for the onset of preseason practice.
“There’s a big difference between a team that shows up prepared and excited for two-a-days and a team that dreads the first day of practice.”
Following grueling months of conditioning, the Horns went on to pull off the upset of the season defeating Blue Ridge 29-20 in the state championship.
Payson’s win ended the Yellow Jacket’s state record 64-game winning streak and four consecutive state championships.
The 2008 championship squad, like the ’98 team, featured a bevy of talented athletes at most all positions. In fact, Payson’s second team might have been as good as some school’s first team.
As gifted as the players were, most harbored an uncommon commitment to the off-season football program.
Matt Wilson and Bryan Burke, both hulking linemen as big and as strong as any in Arizona prep football, were weight room regulars. Both went on to college football careers.
At season’s end, the Payson Roundup asked the seniors if they “had done something to build the foundation for continued success in the program?”
David Carlen replied, “Yes, this team made lifting important and showed the younger football players how to work hard and stick together.”
Another answered, “We finally started a good lifting program in Payson and that is what has been missing. Lifting can turn boys into men and good athletes into great athletes.”
When Shane Keith was asked what advice he would give incoming freshmen football players, he responded, “Lift, lift, lift. Dedication is the key. Dedication and strength can make up for a lack of talent.”
Knowing what we know about the training habits of Payson High’s finest football teams, it becomes blatantly obvious why Swartwood is adamant his players commit to the summer conditioning and training program.
He wants his players to have every chance to succeed.
It’s a given, if the athletes buy in to what Swartwood is asking, Payson’s chances for success next season increase exponentially.
If they shy away, the Horns will struggle.
Currently and throughout the remainder of the summer, Swartwood hosts open weight room from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. each weekday in old PHS gym.
Also, at 4 p.m. each Thursday, 7-on-7 passing league sessions are held on the Rumsey Park multipurpose field.
The annual Payson High School-hosted football camp, which has drawn four teams, will be held July 15 to July 19.
Swartwood strongly encourages prospective players to turn out for all opportunities reminding them, “You’ll only get out of it what you put in.”