Bloomington – Bryan Payton and many IU fans share something in common these days.
Both would love for him to be Indiana's starting tailback.
After being the most effective of IU's three running backs in the season opening win over Western Kentucky with 57 yards on nine carries, many on-lookers hope the 5'9", 205-pound junior from Ft. Wayne will earn a lion's share of the carries from here on out. Even Payton admits he'd welcome the chance to be Coach Bill Lynch's first choice and to play an even bigger role offensively.
"I would love to be the first guy," Payton said. "It's something I've always strived for every training camp and every spring."
But Payton remains No. 2 on the depth chart behind Marcus Thigpen as IU readies itself for Saturday night's game against Murray State at 7 p.m. While both Payton and No. 3 Demetrius McCray figure to get their share of carries as well, most likely it will be Thigpen who once again gets the nod from the IU coaching staff when the offense takes the field for its first series
Ultimately, that's okay with Payton. His competitive side has him trying his best to win the on-going competition for carries at tailback, but there's another side to him that realizes Thigpen and the other tailbacks have things to add to the cause as well.
"Thigpen being the starter, that's not a problem with me," Payton said. "He brings a lot to the table, things that I can't bring. None of us have that type of speed, and I hate to say it, but I never will. That's something God didn't give me, and I can't do anything about it.
"I just have to perfect the things I do bring to the table."
What Payton brings is a toughness and tenacity that's allowed him to be clearly IU's most effective runner between the tackles. While others might be quick to look to bounce a run outside, when Payton sees even a sliver of an opening he hits it (and whoever tries to fill it) hard. He did that last weekend against Western Kentucky, when he broke a couple of tackles on an inside hand-off and bounced outside for a 34-yard run, setting up a late third quarter touchdown. He also did it in 2007 when he ranked third on the team with 381 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 90 carries.
While Payton has traditionally gotten plenty of calls in the red zone and in short yardage situations, he doesn't consider himself a power back. Lynch doesn't know exactly how to define him either, but knows he has the components that he looks for in a ball carrier.
"He's strong, but he's not overly big," Lynch said. "He has good feet, he's tough. He can get the tough yards, but he's broken some big plays for us, too. He's probably not the fastest, but he's a good all-around back. He's a good pass blocker. He can do all the things that we ask him to do in our offense."
So if he's not a speed runner or a power back, then what does all that add up to? Payton thinks labels don't necessarily work with him.
"It sounds cliché, but I consider myself a Bryan Payton type of back," Payton said. "I don't know if I could put a label on it. I don't have a whole lot of size, I don't have a boatload of speed. I just have to go out there and do my job and get it done.
"I don't know what I'd call myself. I don't know if I want to put a label on it. I just want to be me, and do the best I can with whatever they ask me to do."
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