Louis Payne is 5-10 and 220 pounds, a block of a young man who can bench press 335 pounds and loves to fly about the football field, hitting anyone in sight.
The three-year Marana Tiger starter has no preference, offense or defense. "As long as I get to hit somebody, I really don't care," said Payne, who'll play on both lines and some as fullback for Coach Anthony Coronado.
Payne, a vocal leader, wants to set the physical tone for the Tigers, 3-7 a season ago and preparing for Amphi's vaunted wishbone in its season opener at home at 7 p.m. Friday.
"He'll whoop and holler, and he'll make plays that will ensure everybody's excited," Coronado said. "He's one of the strongest kids in our school. He's good at leverage, he has speed off the ball. He was the state runner-up in heavyweight wrestling as a junior. He will make teams rewrite" how they face up with Marana.
"I like to set an example," Payne said. "I want to get people fired up, to get better, to push themselves."
Payne is "the nicest guy off the field," said teammate and slot receiver Kord Catt, 5-9 and 150 pounds. On the practice field, "typically, I try to avoid him. That's a main goal."
Coronado, a 12-year coaching veteran at Marana, is in his second consecutive season as Marana head coach. He welcomes back seven defensive starters, along with Marana's top four receivers. The entire offensive line, plus two backups, graduated. Coronado expects to start four juniors and a sophomore up front. Mike Susa, one of the juniors, played some a season ago. "Every other guy has not played a single down of varsity football yet."
Marana is "never going to be bigger than anyone we play," Coronado said.
Jaylon Hill, a 6-2, 200-pound defensive end and receiver, is a stalwart. Reese Howard is the middle linebacker. Robert Contreras is the free safety. Tanner Morse, who started at cornerback as a sophomore and led Marana in interceptions, is back. Beyond them "we could have a lot of diamonds in the rough."
Offensively, Catt is a "go-to receiver" in the slot. Last year, "we knew if we needed a catch, he'd make it," Coronado said. "He is no one's definition of a receiver. If you see him around campus, you'd have no idea he played. Kord has sure hands, he'll do whatever you ask, and he will catch whatever the quarterback will throw at him. I would love to have a bunch of Kord Catts."
Solomon Stokes, Jose Zazueta and Tanner Morse can also move. Speed at the skill positions is "definitely a positive for us."
Defensively, Marana will continue to deploy the 3-5 stack, with three down linemen occupying blockers and allowing five linebackers to make plays. "Everyone has now played in our program that way," Coronado said. "It's organized chaos. For offensive line coaches, it's a nightmare. It doesn't look like there's any scheme, kids blitzing from everywhere, like street football. But it's completely organized."
The Tigers scrimmaged Catalina Foothills last Wednesday. "I was happy with the results," said Coronado. "There were some players who surprised us."
One was Devon Roebuck, a sophomore, in his first week at quarterback.
"He's just a pure athlete," Coronado said of Roebuck. "Throwing, running, he's a nice threat to have."
Roebuck contrasts with the other QB, Addin Soto, who had several starts a season ago.
"They're two very different quarterbacks," Coronado said. "Soto is more of a drop back passing quarterback. He's composed."
Marana's 4A challenge "is probably the toughest in the state," Coronado believes.
"Every kid comes in right now thinking 'we're all 0-0, our record is the same as everyone else.' You have to be able to understand, everyone has to do their job. If everyone does their job to their full capability, this season is theirs for the taking."
Weekly improvement is essential. "Part of our success has to be that we aren't saying the same thing, and correcting the same problems, in the middle of the season," Coronado said.
Unity is as well. "These guys have to be a family. They have to stick together, and just do it together. We never want to see our guys get on each other. And we've got to stay injury-free."
Payne believes Marana is improved, with better team chemistry.
"We want to go to the playoffs, obviously," Payne said. "It's one game at a time."
4A-1 Kino Region
Aug. 27 Amphitheater
Sept. 3 at Mountain View
Sept. 10 at Cholla
Sept. 24 Sabino
Oct. 1 Pueblo
Oct. 8 at Flowing Wells
Oct. 15 Cienega
Oct. 22 at Desert View
Oct. 29 at Sahuaro
Nov. 5 Nogales
'Catt'-like Kord makes the catches
Around Marana High School, Kord Catt is "not really labeled a football player," the senior says.
"People come up to me and say 'Kord, you play football?'" he laughs.
Kord Catt does play football, and plays it well. He's a second-year varsity starter whose speed and sure hands as a slot receiver make him a go-to guy in the Marana Tiger attack.
A season ago, "we knew if we needed a catch, he'd make it," Coach Anthony Coronado said. "If it's third and four, he'll get the five yards for you."
"I prefer the short distance pass, then get the yards after the catch," said Catt.
Catt has added muscle, weighing in near 150 pounds. "I think I had a growth spurt recently," he said, reaching 5-8 or 5-9.
He's a team leader, mostly by example, doing what's right, keeping his grades high, organizing the huddle, working hard in practice. "Show everyone how it's done," he said.
The Tigers are improved, he believes. "We've really come together," Catt said. "Now, we're more of a group. I like the whole family thing. Your team's your family. They're not just your friends."
Catt, who also plays volleyball, describes football as "a fun sport. There's no other sport where you can go out and hit people, or avoid being hit, in my case."
Playoffs are a goal, "for sure," the Picture Rocks resident said. "Fun is a good goal, too. It's high school, you want to have fun."
— Dave Perry