Bloomington- Last season, Marcus Thigpen was the featured running back for the Indiana Hoosiers. Now that Thigpen has graduated, someone else is ready to step to the forefront.
Except it's not his first rodeo, either.
Senior running back Bryan Payton will be one of the featured backs this year for Bill Lynch's Hoosiers, and while he's never been the team's starter, he's certainly made an impact. Last season Payton rushed for 339 yards on 79 carries and scored two touchdowns. In 2007 he rushed for 381 yards and four scores, helping Indiana earn an Insight Bowl bid.
Payton has used this spring to prepare for his senior season, a season in which the Hoosiers are hoping to improve from a 3-9 record in 2008.
"The improvement that we've made from last year and the new stuff that we've put in has helped us improve in a big way. I think putting in the pistol formation was definitely huge. We're (running) more downhill this spring," Payton said. "I've become more of a leader now. I'd like to say I'm quicker and faster—I'm not sure yet. I feel good, I feel like I'm being more patient and the game is slowing down for me."
Payton's leadership is not lost on the coaching staff, and IU running backs coach Dennis Springer acknowledged Payton's guidance.
"He has been tremendous. Bryan has been a natural leader for us. He's a very emotional kid, so he brings a lot of energy to the program, and probably even more than that, he's a great character kid. He's in the right place, he's doing the right things, and that part of his leadership has been great for us," said Springer. "The younger guys all call him ‘Pops', so they know he's been through it, and he's one of those guys who has built this program, and continues to build this program to where we want to get it, so they respect that."
Lynch has been at Indiana for Payton's entire playing career, and he's gotten to know what the senior is all about.
"He's such a leader. He's a tough, hard-nosed guy, but he's a really good person who does everything right, works so hard, and he leads by example. It's important to have him out here," said Lynch.
While Payton has had a chance to play college football, he hasn't lost sight of other aspects of life. Talking about his senior season, he knows that this might be it.
"[My senior season] is going to mean a lot to me. I've already decided I'm going to dedicate it to my parents because this could possibly be my last year of being any kind of athlete ever. I can count the number of games they've missed on one hand, no matter what sport since I was 5. I want to go out on a good note, of course, going to a bowl game. I'm going to work hard to keep the guys' morale up so we can do just that," said Payton.
The Fort Wayne, Indiana native also knows what he wants to do after football, which not all college seniors can attest to.
"To be honest with you, I don't really think about the NFL at all. If it's there, it's there; if it's not it's not, but I'm set. I want a career in journalism, and I want a career in fashion design as well. Really, those are more important to me than anything. Even if I make it to the NFL, sometimes it stands for Not For Long. It's an exciting time. It's on my mind and I'm prepared for it," said Payton.
Payton even named senior safety Collin Taylor the best-dressed player on the team.
In 2008, the Hoosiers were 6th in the Big Ten in rushing, gaining 2,003 yards as a unit, something Springer hopes they can improve on during 2009.
"Outside of getting banged up a little bit, the intensity and the focus, and the energy has been there all spring. I'm happy with my group and they've been working hard," Springer said.
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