Eddie Payton says his first love wasn't football...it was golf

By A.J. Giardina – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Eddie Payton has been Jackson State's golf coach for 25 years developing a highly successful program.

His men's teams have captured 21 SWAC Championships.  After the 1995-96 season his men's team made NCAA history when they qualified for and participated in the NCAA Golf Regionals, becoming the first historically black college to compete in such a prestigious event.

Payton also coaches the Jackson State women's golf team.  Under his guidance the Lady Tigers have won 13 SWAC titles.  In 2001 the ladies received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"We've been real fortunate not only as a player but a coach to be around some of the greatest teachers and greatest players, " he stated.  "Not only did the teachers make me better but the players made me look good as a coach.  Recruiting is the key."

Payton recruits players from throughout the world, mainly in Australia and Canada.

Eddie was an all-around athlete at John Jefferson High School in Columbia, Mississippi.  He was All-Conference in football, basketball and track.  He named All-State in baseball and received an offer from the Atlanta Braves.

Payton would sign a football scholarship with Jackson State and graduated in 1973 with science degrees in Mathematics and Health and Physical Education and Recreation.

He ended up playing pro football in the NFL, becoming a threat on punt and kickoff returns with a number of teams.

"Started at Cleveland for a year, " he stated.  "Headed to Detroit and played with the Lions for two years, spent two years at Kansas City and four years with Minnesota."

He said his life changed one day while playing in the Metro Dome.

Payton said, "A funny thing happened to me on my way in returning a punt. I've got one guy between me and 99 yards and he's got a number on something like 60. I give him a head and shoulders and I end up looking straight up at the dome at that point I realized that God was giving me a sign...go coach golf."

Eddie says golf was his first love and he got the golf bug at an early age.

"I started to caddy when I was 10-years-old at Columbia Country Club, " he stated. "Caddied there before the day before I left to go to Jackson State to play football . It's always been my first love and something I find a challenge everyday and I enjoy doing it."

He admits he always has his brother, the late-great Walter Payton, the Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back on his mind.

"Well you know everyday I miss him, " he said with a big smile on his face.  "But when you love a loved one you carry their memories in your heart.  "It means that they never leave you.  Everyday I feel that he's with me, guiding me in the things that I do.

He said when he feels bad he can always think of some of the things they did together and it makes him smile.

Payton is married to the former Rica Lewis of Birmingham, Alabama and they have two sons and two daughters.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.