Former MU star Payton succumbs to cancer

September 29, 2018

HUNTINGTON — Former Marshall University All-American quarterback Michael Payton died Thursday.

Payton, 48, died from complications related to cancer. Payton’s brother David confirmed the former Thundering Herd great’s death.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and family of Thundering Herd great Michael Payton,” Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick said Thursday in a news release. “An All-American and a member of the Marshall Athletics and College Football Halls of Fame, his loss will he felt by so many.”

Payton led Marshall to the 1992 NCAA Division I-AA national championship, engineering a fourth-quarter, game-winning drive that culminated in Willy Merick’s 22-yard field goal to defeat Youngstown State at Marshall Stadium. Payton also helped the Herd to the 1991 NCAA title game in Statesboro, Georgia.

As a senior in 1992, Payton passed for 3,610 yards and 31 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions. He was rewarded with first-team All-American honors and was named the Walter Payton (no relation) Award winner as the premier player in I-AA (now FCS). He parlayed that success into a stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as well as the

Arena Football League’s Florida Bobcats.

Payton was inducted into Marshall’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999 and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

Payton’s death stunned fans and former teammates, many of whom said they thought he was responding well to 12 cancer treatments.

“Oh no,” said Marshall fan Jill Long Ross. “I thought the treatments were working. He had such an awesome attitude.”

Payton’s teammate, linebacker Will King, was shocked by the news.

“No way,” King said. “Unbelievable.”

Payton’s death comes on the heels of that of another former Herd star quarterback, Reggie Oliver, who died Aug. 13 at 66.

“I know Michael and Reggie are playing catch right now and telling some great stories,” Herd fan Brad Bobersky said.

Jimmie Morgan, a longtime member of the chain crew at Herd football games, expressed a similar sentiment.

“Reggie and Michael, oh what Herd football stories are being told in that press box on high,” Morgan said. “I know we’re not supposed to question, but why so young?”

Former Marshall basketball standout Malik Hightower took the news hard.

“I am beside myself with grief,” Hightower said. “Michael was a great friend.”

Former MU tight end Eric Ihnat struggled with the loss.

“I’m very sad for the Payton family,” Ihnat said. “Michael was a beautiful man and an inspiration to so many. I will never forget him and know we will throw and catch the football again when I see him in heaven.”

Payton was recruited to Marshall out of Central Dauphin High School by then-Herd coach George Chaump and started for three seasons under coach Jim Donnan after Chaump left to become head coach at Navy.

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