First presented in 2008, the Walter Payton Achievement Award is an honor given annually to two players -- one from each of the two schools participating in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney. The game, which features and celebrates teams from historically black colleges and universities, helps kick off a new college football season on Labor Day weekend in Orlando, Florida.
The 11th annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney will take place Sunday, Sept. 6, at 3:30 p.m. ET, at the newly renovated Orlando Citrus Bowl. The game will be televised live on ESPN.
The award is named in honor of the late Walter Payton, an All-American running back at Jackson State University (1971-74). A member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, Payton spent his entire NFL career with the Chicago Bears (1975-87).
Each school that will compete in the 2015 MEAC/SWAC Challenge -- South Carolina State University of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff of the Southwestern Athletic Conference -- has nominated three players. The winner from each school is determined via fan voting through the summer.
Voting for the 2015 Walter Payton Achievement Award opens Tuesday, July 21, and closes Wednesday, Aug. 26. Award winners will be announced live at the MEAC/SWAC Challenge welcome banquet Friday, Sept. 4, at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The award is presented by Walter Payton’s son, Jarrett Payton.
South Carolina State University nominees
Antonio Hamilton, DB/punt returner
Hometown: Johnston, South Carolina
Major: Physical Education
Hamilton appeared in 10 games at defensive back in 2013, his sophomore season. In nine games in 2014, he tallied three interceptions.
“He’s a great student-athlete in the classroom who has tremendous talent on the field,” SCSU coach Buddy Pough said. “He is very worthy of winning this award.”
In 2014, Hamilton's first season as a punt returner, he handled 15 punts, averaging 25.6 yards per return with two touchdowns. He also scored a touchdown on a kickoff, averaging 28.6 yards on 11 kick returns.
Temarrick Hemingway, TE
Hometown: Loris, South Carolina
Hemingway has seen action since his freshman season, playing in nine games in 2012 and all 13 games in 2013. Beyond the field, he is regarded as a dedicated student-athlete.
“Always has maintained great character on the field as well as in the classroom throughout his career,” Pough said of Hemingway. “He has really developed into a solid athlete who could possibly play on the next level."
In his sophomore season, Hemingway scored four touchdowns on 26 receptions and 223 yards receiving. In 2014, he notched 18 receptions on 251 yards for one touchdown.
Darius Leonard, LB
Hometown: Lake View, South Carolina
Major: Physical Education
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Leonard’s redshirt freshman season was a busy one, and his coaches hope that his sophomore season is no different.
“Leonard is a star in the making,” Pough said.
Leonard was the MEAC Rookie of the Year last season and was the lone player from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference to be named to the Rice Award watch list. The award is given annually to the top freshman in the FCS. In his first collegiate season, Leonard racked up 72 solo tackles and 14 assists, along with five sacks for a loss of 42 total yards.
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff nominees
Willie Duncan III, LB
Hometown: Southfield, Michigan
Major: Biology / Dentistry
Named to the 2014 All-SWAC team at linebacker, Duncan is a gifted player and more.
“Willie works equally hard in the classroom,” coach Monte Coleman said of Duncan, who finished his freshman year with a 4.0 cumulative GPA. “He’s a very hard worker, plays the game the way it should be played, but overlooked by many FBS programs because of his size. Willie is the right fit for UAPB and the Southwestern Athletic Conference.”
In his sophomore season, Duncan played in 11 games and was the team’s leading tackler (100 overall: 43 solo, 57 assisted). He recorded 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, earning second-team All-SWAC honors. He ranked fourth in the SWAC in tackles per game (9.1) and tied for ninth in forced fumbles (two).
Kevin Rucker Jr., S
Hometown: Idabel, Oklahoma
Major: Rehabilitation Services
Class: Redshirt Senior
Rucker, who started every game in 2014, was an All-SWAC safety and has a 3.2 GPA through his junior year.
“Kevin has become one of the team’s leaders on and off the field,” Coleman said. “A very hard worker, Kevin prides himself on leading by example.”
Rucker finished the 2014 season with 50 tackles (35 solo, 15 assisted), two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, five interception returns for 111 yards and four pass breakups. He recorded a season-high nine tackles against Alcorn State, tied for No. 1 in the conference in interceptions on the season, and was eighth in passes defended per game (0.82).
Willie Young, WR
Hometown: New Orleans
Major: Criminal Justice
Class: Redshirt Junior
Starting every game in 2014, Young tallied 727 receiving yards on 45 receptions -- his longest was for 69 yards -- and nine touchdowns.
“Willie Young exemplifies what hard work can do,” Coleman said. “Last season he was one of the SWAC's top receivers as he earned second-team All-SWAC honors. Willie has excelled on and off the field and has worked hard to achieve and maintain a 2.5 GPA.”
Young added one kick return for 17 yards and one carry for 7 yards to finish the season with 751 all-purpose yards. He had a season-high 175 yards on 10 receptions with three TDs against Mississippi Valley State, and added three receptions for 142 yards and three touchdowns against Texas Southern.