Bringing his father’s jersey with him to Tallahassee, Jarrett Payton felt as though the late Walter Payton was with him in spirit. However, when he stepped onto the field, Jarrett Payton was wearing his own No. 34 jersey, starting for the Hurricanes for the first time in his career.
“What helped me the most were my teammates,” Payton said. “The night before the game, the O-line sat me down and said they had confidence and faith in me. That made me feel so much better because those are the guys I go to war with so if they had confidence in me, then I knew everything was going to be all right.”
The offensive line reassured Payton that they would constantly block for him, and advised him to keep fighting. The plan was to stay tough throughout the entire game, and push even harder in the final quarter.
“Many people were wondering if I could do it,” Payton said. “I think I just had to prove to them that I could play. It was more motivation for me. I’ve been a lot more confident in myself and in my game now that I went out and did what I had to do. The biggest thing was for my teammates to know that I can play in those big games so they will have faith in me to step up.”
Jarrett Payton finished with a career high 97 yards rushing and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass as the Hurricanes upset the Seminoles 22-14. His performance surprised many people, but not his teammates and coaches.
“This did not surprise me,” Running Backs Coach Don Soldinger said. “I did not lose any sleep over it. He’s a great pass protector, he’s got great hands, and he’s a hard runner. He’ll miss his read once and a while, but that just comes with experience. I do however want to see him jack his average up. He is just a good football player and has a lot of potential.”
“I was so proud of him it was ridiculous,” Offensive Line Coach Art Kehoe said. “He protected the ball, he blocked his butt off, and he caught the ball well. He was just the way you have to be to face Florida State.”
Payton joked that sometimes he just closed his eyes and just started running. There was some truth to that, however. Because of the rain at Doak Campbell Stadium, the mud would fly straight into his visor after every tackle. He had to squint on the left side, keeping only one eye open on certain runs.
All of the hardships were worth it for Payton, as he finally got the chance to be the Hurricanes’ feature back.
“I feel it’s better to run to the line of scrimmage and do it over an over than just running in and getting started,” Payton said. “You feel like you get into a grove a little more, and you are aware of the pace of the game. This week was different because not only did you have to get used to the pace, but the playing surface was altered as well.”
Soldinger has seen Payton benefit from working with great tailbacks during his UM career.
“He’s played behind some of the best backs in college football,” Soldinger said. “I mean Willis McGahee must have been one of the best backs and Clinton Portis a very close second. We’ve had some great backs here. JP has always been right there, just a notch below those guys.”
Payton played with something to prove, and feels that he ‘Canes’ best football is yet to come.
“We have a long way to go, this thing is not over,” Payton said. “To me it was just reassuring to see everyone on that same page, because I wasn’t seeing that a few weeks ago. I saw a lot of people doing their own thing. This week, in the locker room, and on the sidelines you just saw everyone caring for each other, and that made all the difference.”