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November 26, 2013

H.S. FOOTBALL: Payton earns 2013 Player of the Year honor

There is more to New Albany senior back than his stats

NEW ALBANY — Tuwan Payton put up some impressive statistics for the New Albany football team this past season.

Payton rushed for 2,177 yards on 235 carries, averaging 9.2 yards per rush. The senior running back was 47 yards short of the single-season school rushing record set by Chris Whitehead in 2010.

Payton ran for 24 touchdowns, which included a school-record seven scores in the Bulldogs’ 55-6 home victory over Jennings County on Sept. 6. Also in that contest, Payton broke the single-game school rushing record with 390 yards. At one point in the season, Payton led the nation in rushing according to the statistical standings.

But the stats did not totally define how vital Payton was to the Bulldogs in 2013.

His work ethic, leadership and unselfish demeanor were huge factors in helping New Albany post a 6-4 record, its first winning campaign since 2008.

Payton’s numbers and intangibles have earned him the 2013 News and Tribune Area Player of the Year honor.

“I’m just grateful for it,” Payton said in a recent phone interview. “I’m glad to know that my hard work has paid off over the years. I wanted to do something for New Albany this season.”

Bulldogs’ head coach Charlie Fields says no player in the Clark-Floyd area has earned the Player of the Year honor more than Payton.

“Without a doubt, he deserves it not just because of the player he is, but as a leader,” the third-year New Albany boss said. “He is what high school football is all about.”

Fields says one of the reasons Payton produced stellar stats this past season was the 5-foot-8 back took full advantage of the Bulldogs’ read-option offense.

“I think it was an example of what are system can do for him,” Fields said. “He had big games against Floyd Central and Providence and even had big games in our losses to Columbus East and Castle.”

But Payton does not take one ounce of credit for his 2013 numbers. He gives all the kudos to his teammates, especially the offensive linemen who blocked for him.

“The offensive line gets all the credit,” Payton said. “They made me look good. It was a win-win for both of us.”

Payton’s praise of his teammates is something he constantly does. Also during the 2013 season, Payton consistently encouraged his teammates to persevere, especially when times got rough. That type of leadership is something Fields admires about his star back.

“When you are around Tuwan, you are impressed by his humility. He says things by his actions,” Fields said. “He gets it. He understands the big picture about things. When you have a player with a team-first mentality, it’s easy to coach.”

Fields gave two examples of Payton’s leadership during the 2013 season. In the Bulldogs’ annual regular-season matchup with archrival Jeffersonville on Oct. 4 at Buerk Field, Payton only rushed for 79 yards. But the rest of his teammates stepped up their games and helped New Albany defeat the Red Devils, 33-26.

“His best game was against Jeff,” Fields said in regards to Payton’s leadership. “They keyed on him, but he gave praise to the rest of the guys in getting the win.”

On Oct. 25, the Bulldogs’ season ended with a 70-14 loss at Class 6A No. 3 Center Grove in the Class 6A Sectional 8 semifinals. But during the setback, Payton kept inspiring his teammates to play hard and keep their heads up.

“That game showed what Tuwan was,” Fields said. “He was cheering on his defense and his offensive linemen. He was doing what you want your players to do.”

Two college teams have showed some interest in Payton to possibly play for them next season. They are Indiana State, which is an NCAA Division I school that plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, and the University of Indianapolis, a Division II school.

Fields says Payton also would like the opportunity to be a part of a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision program, most likely as a walk-on.

“As of now, Indiana State has talked with him several times. I’ve sent several tapes to them on him. He has visited the University of Indianapolis. He would like to have the challenge to walk-on at a bigger school,” Fields said. “Some coaches look at his size and want to put him at deep [cornerback]. There are a lot of options for him.”

While his football future is up in the air, Payton plans on training hard to prepare himself to possibly compete at the next level.

“The weight room comes first. I need to get more beef on me, and I look to get my feet up more,” Payton said. “Hopefully, I will make it at that level. Whether it’s D-1 or D-2, I just want to play at the next level.”

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