While at Concordia Lutheran in Fort Wayne, Ind., Bryan Payton broke nearly every school rushing record, was named all-conference for three years, and was a big reason the Cadets won a state 3-A sectional title and finished in the Final Four overall during his senior season.
"As far as a player, we have had none finer than him. He was our strongest and our fastest player. You don't always get that combination as far as football is concerned," said Cadets coach Dean Doerffler, who is also the school's athletic director.
But for the most part, the major colleges steered clear of Payton due to his grades. However, Ball State offered him and promised to stick by him even if he had to go to prep school or junior college.
"‘We want you here at our school,'" Doerffler remembers the Ball State coaches saying. "But they also knew if he got an SEC or ACC school that got interested in him, then they knew they were not going to get him."
And apparently, that's exactly what has happened. Payton verbally committed to play football at UNC on Dec. 23.
But Fork Union was a good experience for Payton. It got him more disciplined as far as academics are concerned, and now he's on the right track.
"In high school, I took a lot for granted," Payton said. "Early on, academics were a big problem. I started to get the picture a little late in high school. The big difference now is just maturity. I don't think I was ever an immature person, but you don't always appreciate the freedoms that you have when you're at home and in high school.
"It pays to be a good person also," he added. "Here, they take a lot of things away from you that you are used to. It's not a great thing for awhile, but like someone said here before, ‘[FUMA] is not a great place to be, but it's a great place to be from.' And I've realized that already."
According to FUMA coach John Shuman, Payton is on track to graduate in May. Payton said he has to confirm with UNC assistant coach Andre' Powell exactly when he's supposed to join the team.
"We haven't discussed that yet, but I plan on showing up late-summer," Payton said.
No rush, in the meantime Payton continues to work hard, without distractions.
"I'm definitely faster," he said. "When I got here, I was a ‘4.5 guy' that could sometimes run a 4.4[-40-yard dash]. Now, I'm a ‘4.4 guy' that can run a 4.3 sometimes."
His former coach doesn't find that hard to believe at all.
"We never had anyone practice harder than Bryan," Doerffler said. "I wish he would have done that in the classroom, but now I think he's on the right track in the classroom. He spent most of his time focusing on his sports. I think it was just a matter of being committed to his studies. Now, I think he's matured, and realizes he has to do the work there as well.
"He's a really great kid. He's got a really good personality."