Jared Varner thought his football career was over when he suffered a concussion in Payson’s final regular-season game at Show Low last November.
But now he’s planning to give the game another go.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Payson High senior signed a National Letter of Intent last week to accept a football scholarship from Arizona Christian University. He’ll compete at wide receiver.
“I didn’t really expect to, but God blessed me to be able to play football again at the next level,” he said. “It’s always been one of my goals. I’ve always wanted to play college football but I didn’t think I had the season to be able to play football again. It’s amazing.”
Varner caught seven passes for 94 yards and a touchdown as a senior for the Longhorns (4-7). He was knocked out of PHS’s 56-7 loss to Show Low after he put a big hit on a Show Low player returning a kick. He was diagnosed with a concussion and had to sit out his team’s loss in the opening round of the Division IV state playoffs the following week. He also had 23 tackles as a linebacker.
He’s excited to be part of ACU’s first team. The Firestorm will play their first NAIA season this fall under head coach Donnie Yantis, 42, whose teams went 94-70 with nine playoff appearances in his 13 seasons as Phoenix Paradise Valley High School’s head coach.
It’s the first four-year college that’s not Division I to have a football program in Arizona,” he said. “When I went to National Signing Day (Feb. 4), coach Yantis said when we take the full team picture they’re going to put it in the trophy case surrounded by national championship trophies. So when we go there 20 years from now to show our children our picture, it will be in the trophy case next to all these national championship trophies. That was his vision.”
Varner said he’s moved on from the concussion issue.
“I haven’t had any problems since then,” he said. “It was definitely a scare, but I don’t think there are any long-term problems that have come from it.”
The concussion certainly didn’t slow him down on the basketball court. The forward played in 26 games, averaging 5.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.0 steals.
In fact, he might have ended up walking onto the basketball team if not for the football scholarship.
“I was going to Arizona Christian before I signed to play football there,” he said. “I was looking at their basketball program. I met the coaches and some of the players. I was probably going to have to try to walk onto the basketball team or the football team and whichever worked out better is what I was going to take. So I chose football because I got offered a scholarship.”
Varner also received an academic scholarship.
The fact that ACU is fielding its first team this fall means Varner has a chance to get plenty of playing time.
“That’s exciting,” he said. “They’re not going to redshirt the first class,” he said. “And based on the other receivers, I feel like I have a high chance to start my first year there. But we’ll find out when I go to their football camp Tuesdays and Thursdays in March to start training for the season.”